Jim Goodin has never felt more popular.
Goodin, the president of a coalition that represents residents of many high-priced condos and apartments along Ocean Boulevard, has been invited to “everything” by candidates in Tuesday’s election who are seeking local office.
“They want me to come to all their meet-and-greets,” he said.
For the first time, thanks to the redistricting process, roughly 6,000 new, more affluent residents have been added to Downtown’s District 1, which has significantly upended the dynamics at play in this week’s election.
District 1 has historically seen the worst turnout of any of the city’s nine council districts. The current councilmember, Mary Zendejas, won a special election for the seat in 2019 with just 858 votes.
But the added members of District 1 are far more likely to vote, data shows. Consider: Residents of the new district had already cast 2,376 ballots as of Friday, almost three times as many votes as Zendejas received three years ago.
The total votes cast in the last primary election in District 1, in 2014, was a paltry 2,404 votes. Both the 3rd and the 5th districts had over 10,000 votes each in the 2014 primary.
In the precincts that include the Ocean Boulevard corridor that has since been added to District 1, 82% of registered voters cast ballots in 2020—more than even the highest-voting parts of the old district, where 74% of voters participated in the election (it was an odd year in that turnout in 2020 was elevated in all parts of the city due to the presidential race).
More northern neighborhoods like Willmore, St. Mary and Washington had substantially lower voter participation rates with percentages landing between 53% and 70%, despite the presidential election.
That has led to a significant shift in the power center of District 1, which has historically included some of the lowest-income parts of the city.
If Goodin feels popular, Jesus Esparza of the Washington Neighborhood Association feels decidedly less so, referring to himself and his neighbors as the “forgotten ones.”
Candidates, he said, have shifted their focus to issues like tourism and economic development, and away from issues like gang violence, shootings and homeless encampments.
“They have abandoned us,” he said of the candidates, estimating his area gets about 20% of their attention to the 80% paid to the interests of the new residents.
Goodin, president of the Ocean Residents Community Association, said part of the reason he’s been lobbied so much is that it’s harder for candidates to reach voters directly by knocking on doors, as many of the buildings block access and strictly prohibit political gatherings.
Pat Welch, who lives on Ocean and is one of the editors of the Downtown Residential Council newsletter, said residents have seen an influx of mailers, texts, emails and meet-and-greet events as the five candidates hoping to win or move onto the general election Tuesday night aggressively court voters.
Welch said most people he’s talked to have narrowed the field down to two perceived frontrunners, incumbent Zendejas and community activist Mariela Salgado, who finished in a close second in the 2019 special election.
He said Salgado has constantly pointed to her narrow 163-vote loss, but Welch scoffed at the abysmal turnout in 2019 when a total of just 2,828 ballots were cast.
“That’s ridiculous,” Welch said. “You’re probably going to get a whole lot more people voting. The Ocean corridor here tends to vote more often.”
Though some in the old parts of the district feel neglected, a more engaged voter block can actually improve the living conditions of people living north of Downtown, said Dianne McNinch, who has lived in the Willmore Neighborhood since 1986 and serves on the city’s Citizens Police Complaint Commission.
She welcomed the new and potentially powerful Ocean Corridor voters.
“If we have more active voters, that’s good,” McNinch said. “Our neighborhood has different challenges than the Ocean corridor. They have a great investment in noise on the beach and all of that, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be supportive when we say, ‘Hey, we want more code enforcement and better property management.’”
Voter participation is expected to be much lower overall this year due to the lack of high-profile federal and state races on the ballot. Just 8% of registered voters have cast ballots so far.
But the 1st District has had a slightly better turnout with 10% of the over 25,000 registered voters already returning their ballots, according to data from Political Data Intelligence.
Experts like Matt Lesenyie, a political science professor at Cal State Long Beach, are predicting that turnout might double by Tuesday night but that would still put overall participation in the low 20% range. This could amplify the voices of highly engaged voters, who may have already decided the District 1 race.
“It’s not unlikely that coastal neighborhoods have already coordinated on a candidate,” Leseneyie said.