I did my research on district elections a little over a year ago and since that time, the idea of district elections in Newport Beach seems more relevant than ever.
In the latest City Council election, we saw very few challengers to council seats, (two to be exact) compared to surrounding cities which attracted significantly more.
We saw the indisputable role that outside money played in the election, leading to the loss of one incumbent and one challenger who in many opinions, were more in tune with community values than the winners.
One need only examine the “Campaign Disclosure Statements” available through the City Clerk and online County Records, Forms 460 and 497 to see the money from developers and PAQ’s taken in by the Team.
These contributions from outside sources, need to be mitigated to give more people the opportunity to run for office. To be truly competitive with these candidates, someone wanting to challenge an incumbent needs approximately $100,000 or, if running against a Team member that drags other Team members along by their collective coattails, perhaps even more.
The Planning Committee Meeting that took place on February 18 which involved a development in the Mariners’ Mile area is another example of a disconnect between community aspirations and those of developers and Commissioners.
Contributions by the community in written and oral form are often discounted and not all are politely accepted, nor are residents written and oral questions frequently answered. City Council members who are sensitive to community concerns would in turn appoint Planning Commissioners of like mind.
Another reform that should take place in Newport Beach that would eliminate the cat and mouse games currently used by council members to appoint a new mayor and mayor pro tem would be to have residents directly elect the mayor, again giving residents more say in city government.
What opportunities are available to city residents who want more input into city issues but cannot continue to afford the hefty price tags required for “at large” elections?
One solution that over 100 of California’s cities (1/5th) currently have turned to is district elections. Once only common in larger cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach, district voting has been gaining in popularity in middle and small- sized cities as well.
Cities in Orange County such as Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Fullerton, Lake Forest, Placentia, Stanton, and Buena Park now have District elections. It is expected that 1/3rd of California cities will have switched to them in the near future.
While some cities have changed from at-large to district elections because of lawsuits challenging at-large elections failure to represent all citizens and neighborhoods fairly, Newport Beach would benefit from district elections by empowering long term residents to get better representation on the City Council.
Generally speaking, the wealthy donors who back council members do not want the same thing for our cities that long term residents do.
The most important change that district voting will make is to lower the main barrier to candidacy.
Right now, it takes a candidate too much money to run for election! Also, a candidate in our at large elections have to make themselves known in every single district. This is an exhausting effort that prohibits new candidates while incumbents, as witnessed in the last election, have much less work to do.
A candidate in a district election can go around door to door in a neighborhood and acquaint herself/ himself with constituents. In our at-large elections, Council members do represent districts but do not necessarily need to please voters in their district to get re-elected.
Our Council’s intractability in addressing residents’ concerns and the Council members’ failure to enact real election reform creates the desire to investigate district elections. They will require more accountability and bring about a more democratic government.
Lynn Lorenz / Newport Beach