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Venice takes step towards controversial election referendum

Written by on Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The city council does so despite accusations of partisanship and a ‘scary’ crowd.


By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: May 29, 2024

Host: The Venice City Council took another step towards a referendum to change election dates and councilmember terms. The only members affected by the change are Democrats, and grassroots opposition is beginning to take shape. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Proponents call it, among other things, a cost-saving measure. Opponents say it is an attempt to make Venice City Council elections more partisan.

On a first reading, the Venice City Council voted on Tuesday to move ahead on a proposed Nov. 5 referendum that would ask city voters to approve a change in term length, from three years to four for council members.

This would end the practice of sending voters to the polls every year. Venice elections would thus be conducted in even years to coincide with county, state and national elections.

Supporters said continuing three-year terms put some city council seats up for election every odd-numbered year, with those races the only ones in the county. Council members who support the change believe future city elections
would likely see an increase in voter participation. And city staffers said getting rid of odd-year elections would save money.

Some 60 Venice Thrives activists packed the chambers.

Those opposed include Venice City Council Members Ron Smith and Joan Farrell, the Democrats recently swept into the city council on a wave of anti-developer sentiment. Venice Thrives, a local citizen group, also wants the city
council to scrap the referendum proposal. Some 60 members of the group packed the council chambers, prompting Mayor Nick Pachota to say this was “scary”.

Opponents see no reason to eliminate the 98-year tradition of annual elections for the Venice City Council. They say it provides the ability to vote new people onto the council each year. And nay-sayers believe Venice voters in odd-year elections are better informed because media coverage focuses on council races.

If the referendum is approved, a Venice election in 2025 will be eliminated. And there will be one-year term extensions for council seats three through seven. Council members Farrell in Seat 1, and Smith in Seat 2 – both
Democrats – would not get a bonus year. Winners of upcoming Seat 3 and Seat 4 elections, would start serving four-year terms. The rest of the sitting city council members won’t have to run again until 2026.

Farrell and Smith, being sworn in by Pachota. Photo: City of Venice

At the Tuesday meeting, council member Ron Smith moved to kill the proposed referendum.

Ron Smith: There are some issues here with the process, with the execution. It has been pointed out that the election cycle belongs to the voters, not to us. I believe the errors we’re making are in the haste in which we’re trying to do this. There has not been sufficient discussion of the pros and cons. I believe we need to set this aside today for closer examination before proceeding about the charter. At this time, I would make a motion to table indefinitely this issue so that a charter review committee can be convened to make recommendations. This needs to go to a charter review board to be written, to be vetted, to be made accurate before it goes on the ballot, and I have asked that we just don’t rush this, just get it right.

RL: Council members Helen Moore and Mayor Nick Pachota would have nothing to do with it.

Helen Moore: Also, this is not something that the city council even would decide. The only decision the council will make is whether or not something goes on a ballot to all of Venice voters. This is not Venice council people duking it out up here to make a decision and see if we make people happy or mad. It has nothing to do with it.

Nick Pachota: My position today would be still to push this to the voters. Let them make the decision. We have another reading, and that gives me an opportunity to talk to a lot more people. This is exactly why I want to move forward today, to give the majority a say in what happens. I understand that the chambers have a lot of people in it, and that’s abnormal for our normal meeting. But this is not ‘We the People’. This is not 23,000 registered voters. They have the right to make that decision. Anybody in here trying to skew me in a different direction from giving them their right to vote is scary. It’s very scary that you guys can come in here, be very vocal as 60 people, and want me to change my mind today and completely shut this down.

RL: In the end, the Venice City Council members voted 5-2 to preserve the referendum, with Smith and Farrell
dissenting. A second reading regarding the proposed referendum is scheduled for June 11.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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