Archives for category: Fullerton City Council
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Should we even try to fill in the blank?

Matthew Leslie

“The City of Fullerton is pleased to announce the Neighbors United For Fullerton will be hosting a public forum with Applicants for the City Council Vacancy at the Fullerton Public Library Conference Center at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, January 28, 2019.”

So reads a city press release advertising a hastily scheduled forum for the twenty five candidates who have submitted applications to fill a vacancy on the Fullerton City Council resulting from now-Mayor Jesus Silva switching from an at-large seat to one in District 3 in the November election. The forum will also serve as one of NUFF’s familiar meet-and-greet opportunities for candidates to speak directly to the public.

Awkward, a little? Perhaps, given that so more than two dozen people are asking the four members of the current council (or three of them, at least) to appoint them to fill out the rest of the at-large term that extends through 2020. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone will have time to properly evaluate so many candidates in such a short time frame. The forum itself is only happening because NUFF moved aside the program originally scheduled for this date and time to accommodate the City Council’s need for a meagre appearance of public process literally the night before possibly appointing one of these lucky Fullerton residents to the seat on Tuesday night, January 29 in during a Special Meeting called for that purpose.

To its credit, the city is live-streaming the forum on its Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/CityofFullerton

but no single forum can adequately serve even the four members of the council themselves in making an appointment that comes just days after the close of the application deadline. Most council members will no doubt simply ignore at least three quarters of the applicants, or more, in a tug of war to form a developer friendly majority for the next two years, with newly elected Ahmad Zahra holding the swing vote power to make it so. Let’s hope Mr. Zahra understands that joining forces with the likes of Jennifer Fitzgerald and Jesus Silva in supporting a candidate like Jan Flory or Larry Bennett will instantly relegate him to an insignificant minority voice on the council for the next two years.

Our best hope is a deadlock to force an election in November, but, meanwhile, enjoy the pretense of democracy tonight before the circus tomorrow night.

CCD_Grid

Matthew Leslie

In November Fullerton held its first ever City Council elections by district. Three candidates appeared on the ballot for 3rd District voters, where Jesus Silva prevailed with 53.5%, a majority of the vote.

But in the 5th District, as in many past city-wide council elections with many candidates running, the winner had only a plurality of support. Ahmad Zahra fin- ished first in a field of five candidates with 33.1% of the vote.

Congratulations are due to both candidates on their hard-fought campaign victories, but across the city, county and country many voters are asking whether or not a “winner take all system” where candidates are elected to office with less than half of the votes in a given election is the most democratic way to hold elections.

In some cities, candidates have been elected with small percentages of the vote—sometimes less than 10%—simply because there has been a crowded field of candidates in a race. Had there been more candidates in the District 3 election, it seems doubtful that any of them would have crossed the 50% threshold.

In 2016’s combined at-large election none of the three candidates who won seats on the City Council had even 20% of the vote. In a field of thirteen candidates, Jennifer Fitzgerald received 17.2%, Bruce Whitaker received 14.5%, and Jesus Silva 14.4%.

Some local voters have suggested that a runoff ought to be held to ensure that no one is elected without receiving a majority of the vote, but runoff elections are expensive, both for the city and the candidate, and simply extend the campaign season, making it even more costly to run for office.
How about an instant runoff built right into the voting process used for a single general election? It’s called Ranked Choice Voting (or sometimes Instant Runoff Voting), and it’s been used effectively by municipalities in countries around the world, by private organizations (like the Academy Awards), by many colleges and universities, and even, in some cases, by the U.S. military.
According to Fair Vote, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is currently used in some form for government elections in cities in six U.S. states, including Berkeley and Oakland, CA, Santa Fe, NM, Telluride, CO, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. RCV has been adopted, and is awaiting implementation, in cities or counties in four additional states, including Memphis, TN, Las Cruces, NM, Amherst, MA, and Benton County, Oregon.

In 2018 Maine became the first state to use RCV for government elections statewide, includ- ing for U.S. Senate and Congress. Six other states use RCV for military and overseas voters.
RCV is being adopted by more and more municipalities because it offers a superior system to the winner- take-all elections we settle for now, where candidates can be elected with a small minority of support simply because so many candidates choose to enter a given race. The concept of ranking candidates is simple: instead of only getting to choose a single candidate from a list of several on a ballot, voters can rank their choices from “1” to however many candidates there are in the race (or stop at a lower number, if they choose).

If a single candidate is ranked “1” by more than half of the voters in the elec- tion, that candidate automatically wins, much like the current method used in Orange County primary elections.

But, if no candidate receives over half the vote, instead of having to schedule a separate runoff election RCV has a runoff built right into the system.

In an RCV election, the candidate with the least amount of number “1” rankings is eliminated from the race. Anyone who ranked that candidate as “1” will have their number “2” choice counted instead.

This process of eliminating candidates continues until a candidate has votes that total over half, or “50% plus one.”

Ultimately, the winner either has more than half of the electorate’s support out- right, or accrues it through rounds of counting votes where that candidate may have been the second, third, etc. choice of a voter whose first or second choice had little chance of prevailing in the end. (The threshold for winning can even be set at a higher or lower percentage of the vote, but for our purposes, over 50% is sufficient.)

A simple demonstration of how RCV works can be found at this link:

Ranked Choice Voting in Fullerton elections would be likely to result in:

 

•Better representation of the will of the voters. If voters are allowed to rank their candidates from best to worst, their votes will actually count for something, even if their most preferred candidate doesn’t fin- ish at the top of the list. It’s like having a runoff without an extra election.

 
•Less negative campaigning. Even though a candidate might know that some voters are likely to back one of their oppo- nents, they will still want those voters to consider them for their second or third choice, which will discourage candidates from running negative campaigns against one another, potentially alienating an opponent’s supporters.

 
•Eliminate the “spoiler factor.” With RCV there is less pressure to keep people from running for office for fear that they will “draw votes away” from another can- didate, and less incentive to intentionally run candidates for the same purpose. Voters can vote their consciences, even if they don’t think their first choice has the
best chance to win, because their second choice might be a candidate they don’t care for quite as much, but who they may think has a better chance of winning.

 
•Diversify funding by big donors. Big funders like the developers and the police and fire unions can’t afford to put all of their eggs in one basket, meaning they will have to spread their money around to support multiple candidates, leveling the playing field.

 
•Encouraging grassroots support of candidates by forcing them to appeal to a greater number of voters. Instead of settling for electing people with 40%, 30%, or even 20% or less support with our current system, Ranked Choice Voting would allow voters a more inclusive, more representative way of electing people to our City Council. The Fullerton City Council should place RCV on the ballot of the next election to allow voters to decide whether or not to adopt it for City Council elections in the future.

Coyote Hills Vista

Angela Lindstrom, Friends of Coyote Hills

The 4th District Court of Appeals side- stepped the people’s referendum right issue when it ruled against the Friends of Coyote Hills on their Measure W lawsuit on December 6, 2018.

The judges framed this lawsuit more narrowly as a business contract between Chevron-PCH and the City of Fullerton even though the subject of the 2012 Measure W referendum, the West Coyote Hills Development Agreement, was codified through a City ordinance which is subject to referendum.

The City wrote the West Coyote Hills development approvals so that if the Development Agreement was terminated, the other approvals such as the General Plan amendment, Specific Plan, and even the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be overturned.

The Friends of Coyote Hills sued the City of Fullerton after it gave final vesting rights to Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes in 2015, despite the people’s successful referendum which should have terminated the Development Agreement.

The appeals court ruled that while the Development Agreement was approved through an ordinance, the City and Chevron had the final say on whether it would be terminated even after a referendum because that was what they wrote in the Development Agreement. The people’s referendum veto was therefore moot. Since the City and Chevron chose not to terminate the Development Agreement after the referendum, the other development approvals stand.

While it’s not surprising that the appellate court avoided ruling on a constitutional matter, this case leaves the door open for the City of Fullerton and other California cities to write ordinances that deprive people their referendum veto, a right granted by our state’s constitution.

 
In recent years, the State Supreme Court has overruled Orange County courts when cities overstep their powers to make land use decisions at the cost of people’s right to participate.

 
In December 2016, the California Supreme Court unanimously sided with the citizens of Orange to reaffirm decades of well-established planning law that supports the right of voters to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions.

 
In March, 2017, the California State Supreme Court sided with the Banning Ranch Conservancy against the City of Newport Beach. The Orange County Register reported that “The case hinged on a simple question: Did the city of Newport Beach violate its own municipal ordinance in 2012 when city planners approved development at Banning Ranch, even though voters in the city had previously said they wanted the land to remain open space?”

 
The Friends of Coyote Hills have until January 15, 2019 to file a petition to the State Supreme Court to review this case. A generous donor has already kickstarted a $20,000 challenge grant to support the Friends of Coyote Hills’ continued effort to save Coyote Hills and preserve the public vote.

If you can make a donation please visit the Friends of Coyote Hills website at www.coyotehillls.org or call 657-325-0725.

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