Pasadena lurches towards redistricting

It’s getting ugly.

Pasadena City Council

A Pasadena councilwoman was forcibly ejected by armed officers and the mayor was accused of packing a gun during recent meetings on a controversial redistricting plan.

Councilwoman Pat Van Houte was removed from a meeting Tuesday on orders of Mayor Johnny Isbell after exceeding a three-minute speaking limit. And at a redistricting hearing in March, another councilman said he was “shocked” to see Isbell carrying what looked like a handgun.

Pasadena, pop. 150,000, is among the first in the nation to test last year’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme court that weakened the Voting Rights Act. The high court voided the preclearance requirement for election changes, which had been the law of the land for nearly half a century in many Southern states.

After the ruling, Mayor Johnny Isbell pushed forward a plan, narrowly approved by the city’s voters. It switches two of the city’s eight council seats from district to citywide elections.


Van Houte acknowledged that she exceeded her time limit Tuesday before Mayor Johnny Isbell pulled the plug and ordered her removed by two armed officers.

Van Houte said she was not given sufficient time to voice her objections to the proposed new map: “If someone is trying to represent the best interests of their city, they should not be thrown out for doing it. I’ve not seen this happen in the nearly five years that I’ve been on council.”

In the map approved on first reading Tuesday, she and another incumbent from the north end, Ornaldo Ybarra, objected to being located in the same district and having to run against one another. She was evicted before the vote was taken.

Ybarra and the other two from the north end denounced the map and walked out in solidarity with Van Houte prior to the vote. The map was approved with the mayor and the four council members from the south side supporting it.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. If this fight is ugly, it’s because the power grab that’s at its heart is ugly. Isbell says he granted Van Houte an extra minute before calling the cops on her, which is awfully big of him. But c’mon, dude. You hold all the cards and you know it. The least you could have done would have been to be magnanimous in victory and let the opposition say its piece. Not doing so marks you as insecure and a bully. Can’t say I’m surprised by that, but Isbell did have a chance to show himself to be otherwise, and he failed to take it.

Anyway. The maps that were under consideration are here – it’s proposed map #2 that will be voted on. The current map is here for comparison. A memo from Mayor Isbell about the maps and their population figures is here. The numbers apparently changed from what you see in the first table. I’m sure we’ll get a clearer picture of all that really happened when litigation is filed after the map is adopted.

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