Redwood City Council Elections in the Future Are Changing
The City is seeking community feedback about the creation of a district-based election system
In compliance with the California Voting Rights Act, Redwood City has begun the process of transitioning from at-large elections to by-districts elections. This blog post shares information about the next steps as the City moves to create by-district elections and ways the community can be involved and share feedback.
Transitioning to By-District Elections
During the September 24 City Council meeting, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a resolution expressing the intent to establish and implement by-district elections for City Council Members based on the threat of litigation and the high cost (millions of dollars) of defending against a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit.
To comply with the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), the City of Redwood City will be changing from an at-large election system, where all registered voters cast votes for all open City Council seats to “by-district” elections. By-district elections will require the City to divide into geographic sections, where voters will cast their vote for only one candidate who resides in their district.
The law firm of Shenkman & Hughes sent a letter asserting that the City’s “at large” election system violates the CVRA by discriminating against minorities who reside in the City. This law firm has sent similar letters to other public entities; some cities have voluntarily or been forced to adopt changes from at large to district elections, like Redwood City. Other cities have sought to defend their at-large system. To date, no city has won a court case, losing millions of dollars in legal fees and other costs associated with litigation. Approximately 200 cities, school districts and other local agencies in California have faced similar challenges in recent years.
In September, the City Council approved a process to engage the community and gain input on the by-district election sequence and district map development. The City has hired a professional demographer to help create proposed district boundaries.
The City is planning a series of community meetings and public hearings to engage the community and seek input into this process. In total, there will be five public hearings and three community meetings to allow residents the opportunity of participation in creating the new district map.
Beginning October 22, 2018, the community will have access to ‘public mapping tool kits’ to provide feedback on how districts could be drawn. The City’s hired demographer will draft proposed maps that ensure compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act requirements. The approved transition schedule envisions City Council adoption of an election sequence and district map on or before March 31, 2019; followed by a vote of registered voters on a Charter revision during the statewide primary in March 2020, if needed. The first by-district City Council election would be held in November 2020.
Attend Upcoming Public Hearings and Community Meetings
Determining how to draw the districts is part of the process of implementing a district-based election system. The City Council held two public hearings on October 22 and November 19, at which the public was invited to provide input regarding the composition of the districts. The City Council opted to retain a seven-member City Council and is asking the public to draw their own districts using either an online mapping tool or printing and hand drawing district boundary recommendations.
Five community meetings will be held in January and February to seek community input on the district elections process and redistricting details. Three community meetings on January 15, 2019 are planned in different regions of the City including 11:00 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 5:00 p.m. at the Fair Oaks Community Center and 7:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library in the Community Room. Other community meetings during Neighborhood Association meetings are also planned including the Mt. Carmel January Neighborhood Association meeting located at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center on January 23 at 7:00 p.m. and the Redwood Shores Community Association (Neighborhood Association) meeting located at the Redwood Shores Branch Library on February 6 at 7:00 p.m.
In addition, another three Public Hearings will be scheduled in February and March to further discuss the district map composition and the elections sequencing. These public hearing dates are February 11 and 25 and March 11.
All of these public hearings and community forums are open to the public, and the City welcomes anyone who wishes to participate in the transition to by-district elections to either share input at upcoming meetings or by emailing the City at email@example.com.
For a flyer listing all public hearings and community meetings planned, go here.
Create Your Own Map
Under the guidance of the demographer and community input at Public Hearings and community meetings, the City Council will vote to approve a specific map by March 31, 2019, and if necessary, followed by registered voters considering a Charter revision during the statewide primary in March 2020.
Many factors may be considered when developing the new election districts, but population equality is the most important.
Other factors include:
a. Topography: rivers, creeks, and other natural barriers, boundaries or landmarks
b. Geography: major streets and neighborhood blocks
c. Cohesiveness, contiguity, integrity and compactness of the area
d. Communities of interest: Neighborhood Associations, established neighborhoods, commercial/business districts, school enrollment, common issues or concerns, voting precincts or other types of divisions
The City has developed a web page for the community to download mapping kits and view an interactive map to draw your own map and submit it for consideration to the City Council. There is also a printed map, that the community can hand draw district lines and email the City their recommended districts.
The public is encouraged to participate by submitting their hand-drawn map or logging into the online interactive map to create their recommended 7-district election map, by January 18, 2019.
Go to www.redwoodcity.org/districtelections for more details about the process and tutorials on ways to create your own map.
The City offers a variety of ways to join the conversation and stay up to date on this issue.
In addition to attending upcoming public hearings and community meetings, you can also watch the Council public hearings online at www.redwoodcity.org/councilmeetings.
Community members can also email the City at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the City’s web page at www.redwoodcity.org/districtelections for more on this issue including:
· Frequently Asked Questions in English and Spanish
· City Council Resolution and Staff Report from the Council Meeting on September 24
· District Elections Public Hearings and Community Meetings Flyer in English and Spanish
· Attorney Letter