By Eric Nakano
UPDATE NOV. 24, 2021: San Dimas City Council voted 4-0 on Tuesday, Nov. 23, to adopt Ordinance 1292, which confirmed Map 131 will be used in upcoming elections. The council also identified that Districts 2 and 4 will be up for election in 2022 and Districts 1 and 3 in 2024. City Councilmember Eric Weber was absent for the vote.
The final selection of a district map for the June 2022 election was far from unanimous — dividing San Dimas in more ways than one.
At a special city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 15, San Dimas City Council voted 3-2 to select a map from 38 maps submitted by the public and National Demographics Corporation, a consulting firm that the city council hired to assist with the districting effort. City Councilmembers Ryan Vienna and Eric Weber along with Mayor Emmett Badar voted in favor of selecting the final map while Councilmembers Denis Bertone and John Ebiner voted against it.
The map divides San Dimas into four city council districts before the next election, scheduled for June 7, 2022. Currently, voters elect all members of the city council at-large, meaning residents cast votes for all councilmembers regardless of where they live in the city. Voters will now be able to select only one councilmember from their own district but will continue to elect the mayor at-large every two years.
The vote came after a contentious public hearing in which several residents who came to watch the proceedings accused the city council of ignoring their input. Their comments came after the council narrowed the number of maps for consideration to maps that the residents believed divided communities of interest such as Old Town and would make it more difficult for women and minorities to be elected.
Since the city’s incorporation in 1960, only one woman and no people of color have served on the city council. Minorities comprise 51% of the city’s population, and women comprise 54% of the city’s population.
At the center of residents’ dispute with the council was the council’s decision to exclude a map submitted by Jose Calderon, a resident of Via Verde, from the final set of maps the council considered. The map was created with assistance from the Latino/Latina Roundtable, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the NAACP. Calderon and others believed their map best balanced the changing demographics of San Dimas and should be adopted.
“We are dismayed that the work of the Latina and the Latino Roundtable, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the NAACP that went into putting forth our map was put aside by the council with no explanation,” Calderon said during the public comment period.
Other residents disagreed that maps were to blame for the city’s lack of representation.
“Women and residents with Hispanic surnames are serving on the city Planning Commission and other city commissions,” said Margie Green, a long-time San Dimas resident and member of the Planning Commission, in an interview after the meeting. “I ran for city council and came in third — right behind (Councilmember) Bertone and (Councilmember) Vienna. Women can win in this city, and a map will not change that.”
Another area of contention was dividing residents of Via Verde and Puddingstone into two separate districts, as the final district map does. Councilmember Ebiner noted during council deliberations that residents he spoke to in Via Verde and Puddingstone indicated they thought they should be in the same district by a 2-to-1 margin.
Other Via Verde residents echoed this.
“I agree with other Via Verde residents that Puddingstone and Via Verde have common interests, such as park and trail parking and traffic impacting nearby residential neighborhoods, and should be kept together in one district,” said Via Verde resident Betty-Jean Lamb at the council meeting.
The map that the council selected includes a northern district that covers the city’s foothill communities before ending roughly at Allen Avenue west of San Dimas Avenue and Juanita Avenue east of San Dimas Avenue; a western district north of Covina Boulevard and west of San Dimas Avenue; a southeastern district that encompasses the communities around the hospital east of Valley Center Avenue along with Puddingstone and parts of Old Town around Albertsons; and a southwestern district that includes Via Verde and communities south of Badillo Street and west of Valley Center Avenue around Rancho Park.
The city council also decided the northern foothill district and the southeastern Puddingstone district would hold elections in 2022. The western district and the southwestern district, which includes Via Verde, will elect their councilmembers in 2024. The map and election sequence are part of Ordinance 1292, which the council intends to adopt at their meeting on Nov. 23.
The last change to city elections occurred in 1979 when San Dimas residents passed a measure to elect the mayor directly instead of leaving the mayor’s selection up to the city council.
The city council unanimously voted to move to districts and enter into a settlement agreement with attorney Kevin Shenkman at a council meeting on Aug. 25, 2020. Shenkman threatened to sue the city on behalf of an unnamed San Dimas resident and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonpartisan Latino voter registration group, alleging that the city’s at-large elections of city councilmembers violate the California Voting Rights Act.
Shenkman has sued several cities in California over the same issue, including Santa Monica, Rancho Cucamonga, West Covina and Palmdale. All of the cities he has sued have lost in court, with the exception of Santa Monica, whose case remains unresolved.
San Dimas agreed to pay $30,000 to Shenkman and transition to district elections by June 7, 2022, to avoid going to court. In order for the transition to happen, the city must submit the final district map to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk no later than Dec. 9.
Disclaimer: Isabel Ebiner, managing editor for the San Dimas Community Post and daughter-in-law of Councilmember John Ebiner, edited this story for AP Style.
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