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Since its inception, San Clemente has been a city that elects its representatives on an at-large basis; everyone who runs for City Council represents the city as a whole.
Jim Bieber, a San Clemente resident, has been in the midst of heated debate during City Council meetings recently. Bieber’s positions on the city’s short-term or vacation rental policy prompted him in January to speak directly to councilmembers, and arguments have ensued.
Now, he and a few other residents are putting together a petition to compel the city to move to districted elections. Bieber claims the current City Council members, according to addresses pulled from public record and real estate sites, show most of the councilmembers live within walking distance of each other in the southwest area of San Clemente on the west side of the Interstate 5 freeway. One councilor lives on the other side of I-5.
“They live in their little cocoon,” Bieber said during an interview. “I don’t see any downside to people in unique neighborhoods in our community to have their own representative.”
On San Clemente’s City Council, five council members are elected and they appoint a mayor and mayor pro tem to a one-year term. Districting, according to the residents who want change, would have one elected official from five different bureaus.
Bieber said he believes the petition will gather enough signatures to try to put the issue on the November ballot.
“You have entrenched people who view other people in other parts of the city as interlopers,” Bieber said. “They should take some leadership and put it before the voters, and avoid a lawsuit and initiative process that isn’t positive in bringing people together.”
Many small cities, below a population of 150,000, have functioned with a revolving mayor, but cities on the larger end have established districts.
San Clemente has a population of about 65,000, according to a 2014 U.S. Census estimate.
Capistrano Unified School District’s Board of Trustees also moved to districting a few years ago. A collection of cities throughout California have started the process of districting due to California Voters Rights Act lawsuits or potential lawsuits that base their claims on varying infringements.
City Councilman Tim Brown said he would not be in favor of districted representation because the public hasn’t demanded it.
“I don’t really see the critical mass and public outcry for it,” Brown said. “I think that what you have here isn’t necessarily a move for the greater good for San Clemente to protect the electorate. (This issue is from) people who have an ideological ax to grind.”
Mayor Bob Baker also said he would not favor districting.
“Residents I meet, no matter their address, want to preserve San Clemente’s small-town charm,” Baker stated in an email to the San Clemente Times. “Recently (the public) has voted out council members who tried to sell their open space. They have ousted council members who tried to sell beachfront parking for pennies on the dollar. They have elected people who have remodeled the Ole Hanson Beach Club, opened the La Pata extension and are trying to save the (San Clemente) hospital.”
Baker said people should vote based on their candidates’ principals and not their home addresses.
San Clemente resident Brad Malamud said if district problems are not solved, they can be altered by elected officials every four years.
“It will be far less expensive to run for office in a district composed of 8,000 rather than 40,000 voters,” Malamud said. “District councilmembers will understand the concerns of their residents. For example, where would a Talega resident go to speak to a current council member that might share their concern? Four live in the southwest and one lives just across the freeway from the southwest (part of the city).”
Malamud said he would not want an at-large mayor as a nonvoting member because it has the potential to give that person too much veto power on legislative actions.
Dan Bane, City Planning Commissioner from 2010 to 2011 and a Talega resident, said representation would give a stronger voice to the other communities in San Clemente.
“I feel like right now there’s just a small group of people and, granted, they’ve been very organized and got people who will represent their viewpoints,” Bane said. “I think redistricting will level the playing field.”
During the Tuesday night meeting, Bieber said that there have been some issues that have been looked at by the current council that represent the city as a whole, but having individual representatives would give more insight from individual communities.
An email sent last week to Councilors Lori Donchak, Kathy Ward and Chris Hamm by the San Clemente Times regarding redistricting was not responded to by press time on Tuesday.
At the Tuesday, March 1, City Council meeting, Bieber presented a pamphlet that pointed out the addresses of the councilmembers, although he did not announce the specific addresses.
Brown took issue with this, saying Bieber was putting councilmembers’ families at risk as they were on the dais and the meetings are broadcast live.
According to the California Public Records Act, addresses are exempt from disclosure on Department of Motor Vehicle records, gun registration, government housing and public employee “records.”
There are other ways addresses could be obtained, but San Clemente elected officials have the option whether to disclose their residence or not when they run for office.
Candidates for elected office are required to provide proof of residence when running for office.
Editor’s note: Due to the San Clemente Times interpretation of the California Public Records Act, we have chosen not to publish the specific addresses of the City Council.