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Elections 2015: LA voters approve charter amendments, city council newbies

Al Gordon votes during the Los Angeles County primary election on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at Saint Mary of the Angels in Los Feliz.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Al Gordon votes during the Los Angeles County primary election on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at Saint Mary of the Angels in Los Feliz.

Los Angeles voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved Charter Amendments 1 and 2, two measures that will align municipal and school board elections with bigger turnout statewide and nationally in even-numbered years.

Election night returns are still unofficial but showed both measures received more than 76 percent voter approval with 100 precincts reporting.

Turnout was the lowest for a city primary in at least a decade, with about 8 percent of registered voters casting ballots, but the shift in election timing could make this the last one with such a low number.

Starting in the 2020 presidential election year, even-numbered city council district primaries will be held in June and runoffs in November. Starting in 2022, when voters also decide a governor's race, the same June-November schedule will start for mayor, city attorney, city controller and odd-numbered council district races. School board races also will be moved to even-numbered years.

Turnout in cities that already do this average 35 percentage points higher than in cities that hold "off-cycle" elections, according to some studies.

The turnout in this election "only validates the need for Charter Amendments 1 and 2," said Fernando Guerra, political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

City Council races

Most of the city council races appeared to end with clear winners, though the wide-open 4th district remained tightly contested Tuesday morning. Carolyn Ramsay was ahead with 15.32 percent of the vote, while David Ryu and Tomás O'Grady were neck-and-neck to determine who advances to the runoff with 14.61 percent and 14.29 percent respectively.

The 4th district, which saw a crowded field of 14 candidates, runs from Larchmont to Los Feliz and into Studio City in the San Fernando Valley.

City Council District 14

In a surprise result on the Eastside, L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar captured 66 percent of the vote – enough to avoid a runoff with former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who garnered 24 percent.

City labor unions and business groups spent nearly $600,000 backing Huizar, who was elected to a third term. He also raised nearly $900,000 – more than three times what Molina raised.

The defeat may mark the end of a long political career for Molina, who was the first Latina to serve on the City Council in the 1980's, the first Latina on the Board of Supervisors, and the first Latino in the state legislature.

City Council District 8

In the 8th city council district in South L.A., longtime Community Coalition leader Marqueece Harris-Dawson won outright with 61 percent of the vote. Harris-Dawson will replace the termed-out Councilman Bernard Parks, a former chief of police and icon in the African American community. 

Parks had endorsed community activist Bobbie Jean Anderson, who received just 11 percent of the vote.

City Council District 10

City Councilman Herb Wesson, who serves as council president, easily won re-election to his seat that represents Koreatown, the Mid City area down to Leimert Park. He garnered 63 percent of the vote. His closest challenger was Korean American community activist Grace Yoo. She garnered 30 percent of the vote and stirred nascent feelings among Korean Americans that they feel left out of City Hall politics.

USC Political Scientist Dan Schnur predicted before Election Day that even if she lost, Yoo’s candidacy was laying the political groundwork for a future Asian American to be elected in that district. Only one Asian American has ever served on the L.A. city council – Michael Woo from 1985 to 1993.

All other incumbents were easily re-elected.

City Council District 2

Councilman Paul Krekorian: 75

Eric Previn: 25

City Council District  6

Councilwoman Nury Martinez: 61

Cindy Montanez: 39

City Council District 12

Councilman Mitchell Englander: 100 (ran unopposed)

LAUSD school board

Other than George J. McKenna III, who ran unopposed in the 1st district, no clear winners emerged among the candidates for seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

Board of Education District 3

Incumbent Tamar Galatzan maintained a strong lead with 39 percent of the vote in the 3rd district. She will face Scott Mark Schmerelson, who received 20 percent of the vote. 

Board of Education District 5

In the 5th district, Ref Rodriguez edged out incumbent Bennett Kayser by about 39 percent to 36 percent. The two will face each other in the general election.

Board of Education District 7

Another incumbent faced a strong challenger in the 7th district. Current board member Richard A. Vladovic came away with 43 percent. Lydia A. Gutiérrez received 38 percent of the vote.

Other elections

Voters in La Habra Heights have rejected restrictions on oil wells and fracking, while Hermosa Beach residents lined up at the polls to defeat a proposed oil drilling project.
Almost 80 percent of Hermosa’s voters opposed Measure O, the only item on the ballot. As a result, Hermosa Beach will pay $17.5 million to settle a legal dispute with E&B Natural Resources. That company wanted to put in 34 wells about six blocks from the beach. Environmental groups along Santa Monica Bay campaigned hard to block drilling in the beach town.
A group of La Habra Heights voters sponsored Measure A to ban fracking and prohibit new wells in that inland city. But just 40 percent of residents backed the initiative, while 60 percent opposed it. In a related city council election, two incumbents – one supporter of oil, and one opponent – were returned to office. The vote in La Habra Heights means Santa Barbara based Matrix Oil will press forward with still-controversial plans for new wells. 

In Redondo Beach, Measure B — which calls for tearing down a controversial power plant — looked to have been defeated by a narrow margin, with 5,213 voting "yes" and 5,614 "no."

This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that City Council District 8 would be determined by a runoff in the general election. In fact, unofficial election night returns show a likely winner, meaning no runoff will be necessary. KPCC regrets the error.