First published in the April 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
At long last, the council formally approved new political district boundaries last week, though it was not without a lingering bit of tension.
The new map passed with a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Jon Primuth dissenting because his own District 3, in his eyes, wasn’t compact enough and left too many residents suddenly out of their election cycle. Primuth’s prior hesitation in moving forward with a district also drew a dramatic public comment at last week’s meeting.
The new map largely leaves intact districts 1, 4 and 5, while districts 2 and 3 become significantly less horizontal and more compact. District 2 sticks north, absorbing most of the city north of the Pasadena freeway and going south mostly to Monterey Road. District 3 picks up moving southbound here, sandwiched in between District 1 and 5 and absorbing pieces of their prior territories.
Primuth, who was elected in 2020, disliked a section of the new District 3 that reached north from Monterey Road to Mission Street, in between Indiana Avenue and Orange Grove Avenue, because he felt it made the district less compact.
“It creates what I think is a very confusing, arbitrary line that didn’t need to be created,” he said at last week’s meeting, after acknowledging the map was almost certainly going to be approved anyway.
The former school board member also said he was concerned that a large number of voters newly added from District 5 — “I think almost a thousand,” he said — who would have voted in this year’s election are no longer able to, since District 3 isn’t up again until 2024. This result is called “voter deferral.”
“I think council had a policy of maybe trying to minimize voter deferral, but it didn’t happen in my district,” Primuth said. “I think there would have been a map where we could have achieved the right balance without all of those consequences.”
This highlighted shift is the only instance of voter deferral from this cycle’s redistricting. Conversely, a number of residents who would have last been able to vote in 2020 will now be asked to cast ballots again this year — Districts 4 and 5 each absorbed portions of District 3.
Though Primuth indicated this would likely be his last word on the subject, that didn’t end discussion on what was otherwise a consent item — the council had committed to and introduced the map at the previous meeting. Alan Ehrlich, who vied unsuccessfully against Primuth for District 3 in 2020, offered a public comment on the consent item, approached the podium and then began silently filing his fingernails.
At Mayor Michael Cacciotti’s prodding that he make his comment so that the meeting could continue, Ehrlich snapped back and asked how it felt to “be disrespected” and “have your time wasted,” as he contended the public was at the prior meeting when the council spent hours going back and forth on which map to adopt.
“The agenda item should have taken perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. You just needed to pick one of seven [proposed maps],” Ehrlich said. “Instead, this council collectively enabled councilmembers Primuth and [Diana] Mahmud to hijack the discussion for over two hours.”
Ehrlich said the city attorney should have shut down Primuth’s requests to have the city’s redistricting vendor tweak a pair of maps to Primuth’s liking and for the council’s 11th hour consideration. He accused his onetime competitor of “sour grapes” and being rude and disrespectful to residents who had participated in redistricting forums and the city employees who organized and ran them.
“As a possible consequence of Councilman Primuth’s filibustering, the council and the staff — who you claim to value their time so much — were faced with the prospect of possibly needing to call a special meeting to consider an eighth or a ninth map,” Ehrlich said.
Primuth did not respond to the comments, though Cacciotti broadly came to the defense of the council’s conduct.
“To try to [reduce] the councilmembers’ discussion and say one council member took over a meeting I think is a distortion, a misrepresentation and just doesn’t understand typical human relations on public boards, that we listen to our leaders like we listen to the public,” the mayor said. “We don’t just listen to one party. We listen to staff, the public and to elected officials. We had a disagreement, but you just don’t say, ‘Mayor pro tem, you can’t talk.’”
Additionally, Mahmud contended that discussions among elected officials — across California — tend to run long because the state law restricts how much interaction outside of meetings that politicians on one body can have.
“The Brown Act forces us to have our only discussions on the dais, so sometimes it takes us quite a while to circle around. There’s a lot of expressions of opinions, but I think this council has done an excellent job of trying to seek consensus,” she said. “I think on the vast majority of the items we vote on, we do achieve that consensus, but it is a deliberative process and it takes time.
“We do not have the legal ability to have conversations in advance,” Mahmud continued. “If so, we would probably cut down on the length of council meetings, but the public wouldn’t have the benefit of our thinking and how we reach decisions.”
Though the city is officially done with redistricting, final approval of the map rests upon the Los Angeles County Registrar reviewing and rubberstamping the proposal.