By Nathan Bousfield
If you weren’t paying close attention to the Santa Clarita City Council race this election season, you probably didn’t realize that while only two seats were up for election, there was a good chance that three would be left vacant before the night was over.
Councilmember Dante Acosta will leave on Dec. 5 to be sworn into office in Sacramento, after beating Christy Smith in a competitive race to represent the 38th Assembly District. He will replace Scott Wilk, who ran and was elected to represent the 21st State Senate District. Who will replace Acosta, on the other hand, is an open question.
For some who have followed the race, there is some concern about the method that will be chosen to fill the open seat – how much will the public be involved, for example – so we asked some COC political science students what they’d like the council to do.
First, some background: in 2006, the City Council faced the exact same dilemma, when Cameron Smyth was elected to the State Assembly while a member of the council. Instead of holding a costly special election, the council decided to appoint the new member, creating a community panel to nominate and rank candidates.
When it was time for a vote on the candidates, the four councilmembers gridlocked, with two voting for and two voting against each proposed candidate. TimBen Boydston, who ranked 9th out of the 10 candidates, was eventually chosen, partially due to a promise he made to the council and to citizens: he would not run for re-election in 2008, because he would be an incumbent who had not been democratically elected.
Now, like in 2006, the council will have to decide how to fill the new vacancy, and just as before, there are a few options.
The council could call a special election, but this would be expensive, with some estimates around $200,000, due to the fact that City Council seats are at-large, which means they are not divided into individual districts by geography, which is typical for a majority of cities its size.
Choosing to appoint a candidate from a list of ranked nominees would be free, but not everyone supports this route. Some voters would like the newly vacated seat to be filled by the next top vote-getter.
“If the council wants to properly represent the citizens of this community, then they should appoint the candidate who received the third most votes,” said Philip Germain.
Because two seats were open this year, the third place finisher could be seen as next in line for a seat at the council.
Mohammad Qayum, a COC student and political science major, would like the council to appoint a new member. An appointment process with ranked nominees would “allow the City Council to quickly add a [fifth] member and continue its day to day function of serving the city of Santa Clarita and its people,” according to Qayum.
There are some concerns, however, that an appointment would allow Bob Kellar and Cameron Smyth, who campaigned together, to appoint someone who would agree with them and not the people. When presented a petition with 18,000 signatures opposing the construction of three digital billboards along the 5 and 14 freeways, Bob Kellar voted to approve the development agreement.
This history is why some would like to see Boydston return for a second term on the council. Philip Germain described Boydston as someone “who has advocated for transparency and truly represented the people of the city honorably.”
Overall, many just want a city council that will represent the public. Regarding which system should be chosen, Andrew Taban stated that, “whether that be through the third most votes, or through public forums before appointment, it is crucial that we have transparency through the selection process, as well as input for the city’s future representative. I believe that the city council should to the best of their ability listen to the public.”
The council is expected to discuss the process they will select to fill the empty seat at their upcoming meeting on Dec. 13, before the council takes a recess until the new year. Council meetings are held at 23920 Valencia Blvd, in the City Council Chambers on the first floor of City Hall starting at 6 p.m.
Correction: This story’s language has been updated to reflect that, at the time, no decision had been made on how to fill a potential city council vacancy, and no candidate had been appointed, elected or preferred.