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.

Next Steps

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 map of districts can be drawn using any number of considerations. Before drawing a draft map or maps of the proposed boundaries of the districts, the City Council will hold two public hearings on October 22 and November 19, at which the public is invited to provide input regarding the composition of the districts.

The City Council may opt to retain a seven-member City Council but change the structure to have one citywide elected Mayor and six by-district-elected City Council Members. This could also be an opportunity for the City to change the number of Council Members if it so desires. California General Law cities can have five, seven or nine Council Members (or a citywide elected Mayor and four, six or eight Council Members). Such a change may need to be approved by the voters as part of a proposed March 2020 charter revision, but the direction would preferably be given now to focus the redistricting process on that revised number of districts.

Three community meetings will be held on January 15, 2019 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. Another three Public Hearings will be scheduled in February and March to further discuss the district map composition and the elections sequencing.

All of these public hearings and community forums are open to the public, and the City welcomes everyone who wishes to participate in the transition to by-district elections to either share input at upcoming meetings or by emailing the City at districtelections@redwoodcity.org.

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 a consideration of registered voters on a Charter revision during the statewide primary in March 2020.

Many factors may be considered, 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. The public is encouraged to participate by submitting their hand-drawn map by January 3, 2019.

Go to www.redwoodcity.org/districtelections for more details and how to create your own map.

Learn More

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 districtelections@redwoodcity.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