A debate over city charter amendments heated up on Tuesday when former 8th District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich alleged that the city “used and misled” its Cambodian community to push for a redistricting commission.
“I think it’s so disrespectful to say the Cambodian community has been used and that they cannot make up their own minds,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in response to Gabelich’s comments. “Quite frankly, it’s appalling that you said that.”
The exchange came during a live debate hosted by the Long Beach Post on Tuesday for four proposed charter amendments that will go before voters on Nov. 6.
The mayor and City Auditor Laura Doud argued in favor of the amendments as “good government,” while opponents Gabelich and activist Corliss Lee called the amendments “smokescreens” for the city’s effort to expand term limits.
Sparks flew at times, with both sides calling the other “disingenuous,” but it was Gabelich’s comments on Measure DDD that stirred the most controversy.
Measure DDD would establish an independent Redistricting Commission that would redraw council district boundaries. It has support from the city’s large Cambodian community, which is pushing for more representation.
Arguing against the measure, Gabelich said the city’s last attempt at redistricting was a long process that “tore her community apart.” Redistricting would impact the entire city, she said, not just the Cambodian community.
Gabelich said more than half of all Cambodians live in one district, so it’s “disingenuous to say they don’t have a leader.”
“The Cambodian community has been misled in these efforts,” she said.
In response to her comments, Laura Som and Charles Song, presidents of Equity For Cambodians, sent an open letter to Gabelich calling for an apology.
“Your ill-informed suggestion ignores the years of organizing and work our community has done to educate our residents about the redistricting process and in lobbying local officials to improve the redistricting process,” they said.
The debate also became heated over the most contentious measure on the ballot—Measure BBB, which would do away with write-in terms for the city council and mayor and instead would allow leaders to run for three terms instead of two.
In support of Measure BBB, Garcia said removing the write-in option would make it easier for non-English speakers to vote and would eliminate a “loophole” that allows elected officials to run indefinitely.
“The system that we have today benefits those who can navigate a write-in process indefinitely,” Garcia said.
Opponents called it a self-serving attempt to ensure a third term for the current mayor and council.
Gabelich said she is not necessarily against the measures, but is opposed to a misleading process.
While the city has said that most other city governments have three terms, she read off a list of cities that are limited to two terms.
“They’re saying that we’re out of the norm… but that really is not appropriate,” she said. “It’s misleading to the pubic.”
Gabelich said the city has voted twice over the decades to limit its council to two terms with a write-in option.
“If you’re doing the greatest job and the community loves you they’ll reelect you in the way that they chose,” she added.
Garcia said the measure is about making the voting process easier.
“BBB is simple and straight forward, and in fact all four of our measures are straightforward, and we think they’re going to make our government even better,” he said.
Doud, the city auditor, argued that Measure AAA, which would codify the city auditor’s power to conduct performance audits, is no smokescreen.
Doud said that the measure simply gives her legal access to do performance audits. While she already does those types of audits, Doud said the city charter doesn’t give her the explicit authority.
“The meat and potatoes of AAA is access. We need access,” she said.
Lee, however, said she was concerned with some of the wording in the measure that changed language from “immediate” to “timely” access of documents.
“When you start with timely, you’re giving up your power,” she said.
While she’s not opposed to an ethics commission, Lee said, Measure CCC is little more than “window dressing” since it doesn’t give the commission any real power.
Doud argued that an ethics commission would be an extra layer of oversight.
“I don’t see how anyone could be opposed to more ethics and more oversight to ensure that public officials and elected officials are being held to the highest standards,” she said.
The election is Nov. 6. To find polling and voter registration information, please visit the City Clerk’s website here.