Why San Marcos, Solana Beach and Del Mar canceled their elections

Photo credit: Flickr user Ken Zirkel under a Creative Commons license

Photo credit: Flickr user Ken Zirkel under a Creative Commons license

This story has been updated to clarify the vote in San Marcos to cancel its election was 3-2 and when the city contacted the FPPC

For the first time, three cities in San Diego County have canceled their fall elections.

The reason? There was only one eligible candidate per open seat in San Marcos, Del Mar and Solana Beach, so the city councils voted to save money and simply appoint the candidates.

California law allows cities to cancel elections in strict circumstances. Some cities — most notably Solana Beach — have invoked the law in the past, but this is the first time three local cities took action.

Election Code Section 10229 says cities can cancel elections when “no one or only one person has been nominated for any office that is elected on a citywide basis.”

The period to apply to run had already closed for all three cities, although there was still time for individuals to submit their names for a write-in campaign. However, after the election is canceled, “officials shall not accept for filing any statement of write-in candidacy.”

Del Mar Mayor Lee Haydu told inewsource this was a way to save the city and residents money. Holding the election was estimated to cost as much as $8,000.

“I think it’s a waste of citizens’ money because citizens will be asked to give a contribution to the candidates to help them go out with their pamphlets and their filing papers and all that,” Haydu said.

All three cities voted 3-2 to cancel their elections on the same day — Wednesday — because they were required to make a decision by the 75th day before the election scheduled for Nov. 4.

Of the three cities, San Marcos stands to save the most money with its first-ever canceled election. At about 87,000 residents, it’s also the biggest city to forgo an election in San Diego County’s history. San Marcos City Clerk Phillip Scollick said the city could save as much as $30,000 from things such as candidates’ statements and signature verifications.

Del Mar canceled its election for the first time, according to Andrew Potter, Del Mar’s city clerk and administrative services director. Although the city will save about $8,000, it has already spent almost $2,000 on publishing election notices, nomination supplies and translation notices.

In an open letter to the council, council candidate Dwight Worden admitted that “this would foreclose the opportunity for someone to mount a write-in campaign, but such a campaign seems extremely unlikely this year in Del Mar where, sadly, not much interest was generated during the well advertised open filing period.“

The other candidate, current Councilman Terry Sinnott, opposed the appointment and voted to hold an election instead.

While the use of Code 10229 was a historic moment for Del Mar and San Marcos, it’s become almost the norm in Solana Beach. The city of about 13,000 residents also canceled its elections in 2008 and 2010. Solana Beach will save as much as $9,000 by not having an election.

Some residents spoke during the Solana Beach council meeting asking that the election be held because of the confusion caused by Mayor Thomas Campbell’s late decision to not run for reelection. Still, other residents and emails cited by council members indicated support.

inewsource contacted the city clerks for the 17 cities in San Diego County. Of the 15 that responded, only Santee had ever forgone an election — in 2004. Carlsbad and Coronado didn’t reply, but county election records indicate they have had citywide elections every cycle since at least 1992.

Solana Beach is the only city in the county to have used Code 10229 more than once. It also has been used historically to reappoint incumbents.

In a single vote, Solana Beach, which canceled elections in 2008 and 2010, has now canceled the November election and appointed to the City Council Ginger Marshall and incumbent Mike Nichols, who voted to cancel the election.

Also in a single vote, Del Mar, which had never canceled an election before, canceled the November vote and appointed to the City Council Dwight Worden and incumbent Terry Sinnott, who voted against canceling the election.

San Marcos also voted to cancel the election for the first time in the city. The council then took individual votes to appoint the mayor and two City Council members, choosing incumbent Mayor Jim Desmond, Councilman Chris Orlando and Councilwoman Kristal Jabara. All members of the council took part in the vote to cancel the election but Orlando and Councilwoman Sharon Jenkins voted against canceling the election. The city also contacted the California Fair Political Practices Commission to make sure there was no conflict of interest in the first vote.

Marshall in Solana Beach and Worden in Del Mar are the first non-incumbents appointed without an election in the county.

Because of Section 10229’s stringent requirements, cities can only cancel an election if candidates are running unopposed and there are no ballot measures up for vote. At least two other cities in California, Brentwood and San Pablo, have both canceled their upcoming elections.

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About Leonardo Castañeda:

Leonardo Castañeda
Leonardo Castañeda is a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.