East Edition Herald American

Whittier, Bellflower prepare for city elections by district

WHITTIER — Next April’s municipal election may be confusing to some voters with at least two current City Council members planning to run for mayor.

Also, three current City Council members might have to compete against each other in 2018 under the city’s new vote-by-district program.

The city has been divided into four districts — No. 1 on the west side, No. 2 on the north side, No. 3 on the east side and No. 4 on the south side of the city.

In April, voters will elect four-year council members from District 1 and District 3, plus an at-large mayor position for two years.

District’s 2 and 4 will be up for election in April 2018 along with the mayor’s seat.

Voters in each district will vote for a council member who must reside in that area.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Vinatieri and Councilman Owen Newcomer have announced plans to run for mayor next year.

Their terms and that of Councilwoman Cathy Warner end in 2016. Warner lives in District 3 and could run for that district or for the mayor’s seat in 2016.

Both Vinatrieri and Newcomer live in District 2, which does not elect until 2018, but they can’t stay until then because their terms end in 2016.

They could compete against each other and against Councilman Robert Henderson, who also lives in District 2, in April 2018.

Henderson and Mayor Fernando Dutra, who lives in District 4, both were sworn in to four-year terms in 2014 and can stay on the council to represent their districts until 2018, when they would have to seek re-election.

Bellflower voters may face the same confusion in coming years because on Nov. 8, 2016, they will decide whether to continue electing council members at large or switch to election by district.

A consultant has proposed dividing the city into four districts. Information kits seeking resident input were distributed in June and are due Aug. 1.

The action is part of a settlement announced last Jan. 15, between the city and three minority candidates who had been defeated in previous elections. They maintained that at-large elections are discriminatory because it is hard for a minority to win.

The settlement, approved unanimously by the City Council, calls for the city to pay $275,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiffs — Luis Melliz and Bertha Valenzuela, who are Hispanic, and Gloria Willingham-Toure, an African-American woman.

The city must provide information to residents on the issue starting next June. Council members as a group may not formally support or oppose the question.

However, each council member privately may express support or opposition, City Attorney Joseph Pannone said.

If the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot measure is approved, the City Council must prepare to divide the city into districts, with the first election by district set for Nov. 6, 2018, if the county agrees to the voting switch.

If the ballot measure is approved but the county does not allow the fall consolidation, the first election by district would be March 5 2019.

The Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters has said it would eventually like to see all municipal voting done in the fall of even-numbered years along with state and federal elections.

If voters reject the Nov. 8, 2016, vote for change, the city would still like to conduct its municipal elections in the fall, thus the next City Council vote would be Nov. 6, 2018 instead of March 2017.

The terms of incumbents that would expire in 2017 would be extended to November 2018, Pannone said.