Big election change in the works for El Monte

Proposal would create district-based seats from ‘at-large’


El Monte city council

A shot of El Monte City Council March 1 Public hearing

Alyssah Hall, Community News Reporter

Updated April 10, 2022: El Monte’s city council approved district-based elections by a 3-2 vote with Mayor Pro Tem Alma Puente, Councilmember Maria Morales, and Councilmember Martin Herrera voting for it and Mayor Jessica Ancona and Councilwoman Victoria Martinez Muela voting against it.

By early April, the at-large electoral process the city of El Monte has had since 1912 may come to a close.

That’s according to city manager Alma Martinez. City leaders have proposed eliminating at-large seats for six district-based ones.

Supporters of district-based elections say they could help save time and money since candidates run within their area, so they don’t need as much funding for ads — which could help thwart the impact of monied interests in campaigns. However, one advantage — that it forces candidates to focus on narrower issues affecting their neighborhoods — can also be considered a downside.

“This is an opportunity and a testament to the city’s relationship with its institutions and people. It’s about representation at the city council level,” Councilwoman Maria Morales said. “As we go through this process, it is essential that everyone in this community feels represented.”

But some residents and leaders are troubled by how quickly such dramatic changes would take effect and have called for local officials to take more time to research the idea and how the maps will be drawn. 

“I do want the community to understand that I do think that this is a worthwhile process. But I disagree with the rushed process that we’re engaged with right now,” said Councilwoman Victoria Martinez Muela at a public hearing in early March. “I don’t think that we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to truly engage our community, especially as this pandemic is starting to…eliminate some of the restrictions of gathering.”

The change would divide the city into “multiple districts with one council member elected by voters residing within each district” — potentially impacting all of the city’s nearly 110,000 residents, according to a city public hearing notice and a city press release.

According to the hearing notice, the city council’s current system allows the mayoral candidate with the most votes to be elected mayor and the two top vote-getters for the council to get two of the four open city council positions.

The motion to change to district-based elections was supported in votes taken in January and March by Mayor Pro Tem Alma Puente, Councilmember Maria Morales, and Councilmember Martin Herrera. Mayor Jessica Ancona and Councilmember Victoria Martinez Muela opposed it.

I believe the community would like to engage in a public forum where they can do questions and answers,” Ancona said at the meeting in early March. “I think that’s the least we should do for the community given that these maps won’t change for another ten years.”

While the two opposing council members were out-numbered, many of their constituents agree with their skepticism.

El Monte resident Gabriel Ramirez said during the public hearing: “I’m confused with this because it’s too rushed, too early. I think it’s time to be more transparent. We should wait until the next election, which is 2024.”

Another meeting attendee, Cosme Jimenez, agreed: “This city doesn’t have transparency. It cannot benefit a special person — a special group. It’s gotta benefit the people first, the ones who are paying the taxes first.”

Residents noted the timeline has been too quick from the city’s resolution in January to begin the process and public hearings in February and March to finalize the process by early April “In time to implement the new voting system for the November 8” election, according to the press release.

That means, noted Council Member Martinez Muela, that people would only have three weeks from the date of the March 1 hearing to submit their district ideas with a mapping tool designed by the National Demographics Corp. and Elevate Public Affairs.

Some residents had other concerns.

For instance, a speaker named Alexis Proctor said district zoning could interfere with the “horse community” where she lives.

“Your map is incorrect. You don’t even show the streets and where the horse properties are. So how can we have a fair say on what goes on?” Proctor said, adding that those communities include other farm animals, which would be inconvenient for El Monte residents who aren’t used to being awakened by barn noises.

Puente, mayor pro tem, said she understood since she lives near a horse community.

“I know that there are parts of the city that very closely border Arcadia, and that’s where the horse properties are,” Puente said, asking NDC to address the issue.

According to the NDC consultant, El Monte has multiple areas with horses, Ken Chawkins.

“Those are very different places. Can we guarantee they’re all going to be in one community? No, but if it makes sense,” he said. “We’re not cutting anybody off. We go all the way to the borders.” 

The next public hearing will be March 29, and the final vote will happen on April 5.

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections, and story tips to [email protected].