File photo by Sam Hodgson
A voter casts her ballot in City Heights.
On New Year’s Eve, Anna Orzel-Arnita walked into City Hall to declare that she was running for City Council.
Orzel-Arnita has led the community council in Redwood Village for the last eight years. With the neighborhood’s shift into District 4 through redistricting, Orzel-Arnita believed she could best represent the district’s southeastern San Diego communities. The election for a new council member is coming earlier than expected because Tony Young resigned with two years left in his term.
But Orzel-Arnita was told she couldn’t run.
City law says the special election to replace Young will use the old boundaries of District 4.That means residents of Redwood Village and Rolando Park, both shifted into District 4 during the redistricting process, won’t be able to vote or wage a campaign in the district of which they’re now a part. Residents of some sections of City Heights, which used to be in District 4 under the old boundaries, can vote and run in the election even though they chose their new council member last year.
“I feel like this entire community of voters are being disenfranchised,” Orzel-Arnita said.
Orzel-Arnita plans to plead her case to change the rules at Monday’s council meeting. She faces long odds, based on the city’s timeline.
Council President Todd Gloria thinks the city’s laws should be changed, but doesn’t believe anything can be done before the special election.
“Believe me, I’m incredibly sympathetic to any candidate that’s caught in this position,” said Gloria, who had to move when redistricting shifted his house outside his district’s boundaries. “Having lived through it personally I understand what that means. The reality is we have to follow the law.”
Gloria has asked the City Attorney’s Office for options to amend the law, and expects a full airing of the issue on Monday.
There’s nothing unusual about how the city is handling this situation, said Michael R.W. Houston, an Orange County attorney who specializes in elections law. The state and non-charter cities do it the same way. The principle is simple: Those who elected a representative should be entitled to have someone serve that full term.
“It’s a question for political scientists to debate whether it’s good or bad,” Houston said.
Young officially submitted his resignation effective Jan. 1. That started the 90-day clock to hold the special election to replace him. And lots of other District 4 dominoes are starting to fall.
• City Clerk Liz Maland is recommending the election be held March 26, which could allow it to be consolidated with a special election to replace Juan Vargas in the state Senate. Holding the election at the same time could save the city about $100,000.
• Eleven people have declared their intention to run, our media partner NBC 7 San Diego reports. NBC interviewed three of the better-known candidates, Dwayne Crenshaw, Barry Pollard and Bruce Williams, last month. Watch the interview:
• Until Young’s replacement is elected, Gloria will oversee the District 4 office. District staff will stay on, and Gloria said residents should expect no interruption in service.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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