REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — Redondo Beach voters will return to the proverbial ballot box on March 2, with an all-mail-in ballot to decide a total of eight open seats at City Hall and on the local school board.
This election marks Redondo as one of a handful of municipalities running elections in Los Angeles County, out of sync with the statewide “on-cycle” elections.
Redondo is doing so despite the passage of California Senate Bill 415, which took effect in 2018. According to SB 415, every political subdivision within the state — including cities, counties, school boards, and other special districts — is required to hold their election on the same day as statewide elections, which generally coincide with national election dates.
The idea behind the law was to increase voter participation — that strictly by placing municipal elections on a packed ballot, more voters will have a say in their city.
The City of Redondo Beach challenged the law, arguing that as a “Charter City” it is exempt from the consolidation law.
The Redondo Beach City Charter was adopted in 1949 under the “home rule” provision of the California Constitution that empowers cities to “make and enforce all rules and regulations in respect to municipal affairs,” subject only to their charter and the state constitution.
In other words, Redondo picked a fight with the state to defend local control against legislative overreach, but also because the members of the Redondo Beach City Council could not come to an agreement amongst themselves.
In November 2017, the City Council moved to prepare a ballot measure amending the city’s charter. That measure, if approved by voters, would have conformed with SB 415 by consolidating the city’s elections onto the same dates as state and federal elections. To do so, the city’s elected officials would have had their terms extended to coincide with statewide “on-cycle” elections, rather than the city’s typical “off-cycle” March elections.
That option, according to estimations presented at the meeting by city council members, was believed to be the least expensive option for running elections.
Mayor Bill Brand quickly vetoed the council’s action. In a letter announcing his reasoning, Brand stated that the City Council was trying to “extended their own terms by one year without voter approval.” But his veto forced the city to miss compliance deadlines set by SB 415, forcing the city to challenge the law or risk facing the consequences.
Redondo was ultimately successful, however, and won favorable judgments at both Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2018 and the California Court of Appeals in 2020, leaving the city free to control its own electoral destiny.
This year, Redondo is coordinating its election with a handful of third-party vendors rather than contracting with Los Angeles County to provide election services. A previous quote for the county’s operations, said Redondo Beach City Clerk Eleanor Manzano, was about $650,000 for an all-mail election.
Manzano projected the city’s costs to top out around $350,000.
Other Los Angeles County charter cities, such as Compton, have followed Redondo’s lead, though so far it appears that all other local elections being held this year will be run using county services.
Given that SB 415 was designed with the goal of increasing voter turnout, it remains to be seen how Redondo’s voters will respond, even though this is an all-mail ballot election with no polling places planned.
Over the past decade, Redondo’s election turnout has been goosed by contentious races and by ballot measures that promised to determine the future of the city’s waterfront or aging power plant.
Still, even with those highly-charged issues, the highest voter participation over the last five elections has been just 35%, in 2017, when voters passed Measure C, effectively killing a planned redevelopment of the pier area.
“There’s no measure this time,” Manzano said. “That’s normally what drives voters.”
Neighboring Manhattan Beach had worse voter participation numbers over the same decade, at most 28.6% and 19.4% at lowest. But in 2020, Manhattan consolidated its election to coincide with the November 3 election, resulting in 87.3% voter participation in Manhattan Beach’s city council election.
According to the Los Angeles County Registra-Recorder/County Clerk, Redondo Beach had voter participation topping out at 85.61% in November 20.
“Since we just had an election where the ballots did go out, the voters have done this before,” Manzano said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a bit more of a turnout.”
Candidates seeking office in Redondo Beach’s March 2, 2021 election:
- Bill Brand (incumbent)
- Shayne T. Hartman
- Michael Ian Sachs
- Chris Voisey
City Council District 1:
- Nils Nehrenheim (incumbent)
- Brad Waller
City Council District 2:
- Todd Loewenstein (incumbent)
- Paul David Moses
- Erika Snow Robinson
City Council District 4:
- John Gran (incumbent)
- Zein Obagi, Jr.
- Harden Sooper
- Michael W. Webb (incumbent)
Redondo Beach Unified School District Board of Education (three seats open):
- Rachel Silverman Nemeth
- Kimberlee H. Isaacs
- Rolf Curtis Strutzenberg
- Margo Trone
- Jerome Chang
- Karen Ford Cull
- Keith Arnold
- Dan Elder