Oxnard votes to consider district election of Council Members

By George Miller

On Monday 11-27-17, the Oxnard City Council, in a special meeting, discussed and voted unanimously for consideration of transitioning to a district-based representation system on the council, instead of the current at-large elections of five Council members and a Mayor. They then voted to hire a demographer to help set up equitable proposed districts and to consider increasing the number of Council seats, if district voting was ultimately decided upon.

We were told that this was triggered by a letter of complaint invoking the California Voting Rights Act, which indicates that voting districts may be required as a remedy to perceived de facto racial discrimination due to ethnic distribution of population. The act mandates a decision and time limits to work out a solution.

Many California municipalities have litigated this and lost/settled, or simply caved to avoid litigation. The author of the bill now makes a great living going around and suing cities to comply. He either gets them to cave, or litigates and wins, including court costs.

Most Council members and some speakers believe that the law doesn’t apply to California, because of its election history and demographic geographic distribution. According to the 2010 census, Oxnard was about 74% Latino (probably higher now), 14% Caucasian and the rest were mostly Asian or Black.

Without going into great detail (watch the video if you want that), some of the reasons advanced:

Pro:

  • Avoid what they say is certain defeat in opposing challenges via this state law by original bill author who became enforcement shark, to force municipalities to comply and enrich himself.  Complying with demand avoids huge litigation expense.
  • Makes elections “fairer.”
  • “Racial justice.”
  • Makes representatives more accessible/accountable to neighborhoods.
  • To deal with claim of economic disparity between north and south Oxnard (Wooley Road is selected dividing line).
  • Lower cost of running for office.
  • Bundle this with more council seats, term limits.

Con:

  • Oxnard does not meet the criteria for racial disparity. Has a strong case to refuse.
  • Oxnard has many more serious problems- choose your battles.
  • There are as many cons as pros to district voting.
  • Already have three Latinos on Council and nearly all ethnicities have been represented over the years.
  • May be able to stop or put this on hold via a case already challenging law’s constitutionality and a possible injunction against enforcement.
  • So-called “economic” disparity is not within scope of law.
  • Would make it more difficult to make representatives who vote on citywide issues accountable to other voters outside of district.

 

Watch meeting VIDEO

 

Speakers before closed session:

Lawrence Paul Stein- Did not state position.  Protested secretive discussions in closed sessions- not transparent. Requests for info unanswered. Haven’t discussed status of litigation, costs. Public ignored. Was on past  committee on this- unsuccessful.

Steve Nash- In favor. Racism is a continuum. Unless you live in an area, you don’t know what their concerns are. Bashed Trump and “wall.” Likens to an imaginary wall on Wooley Road. Reduces impact of special interest money.

Hector- In favor

During open session- item E:

Larry Stein

14 public speakers articulated various positions, 8 in favor, 5 opposed, 1 didn’t indicate, on the proposed change:

Lawrence Stein (again)- Mainly commented about number of districts, how elected, whether Mayor stays at large and how selected and lack of transparency on discussions and where they stand.

Arthur “AJ” Valenzuela initiated the process with his complaint

Arthur (AJ) Valenzuela- In favor- Tremendous step toward improving our democracy and representation. Wants independent citizens commission to create district maps.

Dave Rodriguez- In favor- state President Ca LULAC. Brings residents closer to leadership. Not ethnicity but choice.

Eileen Tracy

George Miller*- Opposed- Law’s  provisions not applicable to Oxnard. Pros and cons to doing it. Council/atty/staff have failed to inform us of League of CA Cities group opposing/challenging law, while  telling us it is it is inevitable that we would lose. Oxnard will not have done proper due diligence if it fails to consider this.

Lupe Andiamo- In favor. Need representation for community. Hard for overworked South Oxnardians to find time to deal with reps/many concerns.issues. Not being addressed.

Eileen Tracy- Oppose. South Oxnard ignored. But not sure this will do it. Want full time, at large Mayor. At one time she wanted districts. Now not sure they would solve problem. Council candidates don’t seem to understand job requirements or civics.

Lucy Cartagena

Manuel Herrera- Favors. But hopes that all pros and cons addressed, not just rushed through to avoid lawsuit. Had multiple questions on details, implementation. Possibly everyone get to vote on all districts. Would districts create  a whole new set of problems? Resent being forced/rushed into this.

Lucy Cartagena- In favor. Avoid buying council seats. Want someone representing her- accessibility.

Aron Merrill- In favor. SURGE Rep and racial Justice. Want reps more closely accountable to representing our needs

Al Velasquez- Opposed.  Questioning Mr. Dominguez (s/b Valenzuela?) letter alleging Oxnard voting rights charge. He just said “may be” violating, with no substantiation. District voting would deny us right to vote for any candidate. Total hypocrisy. “Legalized segregation by dividing the city.” Should be decided by voters, not Council- too big for them.

Aaron Starr

Alicia Percell-  Opposed. Initially said not speaking for or against, then it became apparent she thought otherwise. CDRA law supposed to avoid disenfranchising of “protected class,” while making a mockery of what it’s supposed to be protecting. Oxnard is the most ridiculous place to be applying the law. Oxnard voters 73% Hispanic. Not a minority at all. Have Hispanic members on Council (she said 2, but there are 3).  This law does not apply to socioeconomic perceived problems. Law author has made out real well with this since he left legislature.

Aaron Starr- Opposed. Plaintiffs are going to court for injunction shortly. District voting would make it much easier/cheaper to run, get signatures, stage recalls.  Not a good policy idea, though. Don’t get to vote on other area council members and will lose accessibility/influence over other Council Members. Ditto south Oxnard. Actually makes special interest money MORE powerful.  Maybe better to break away S. Oxnard as a separate city.

Jack Villa-  In favor. Better representation for all neighborhoods, more representative accountability, claims not have 70% Hispanic council (because we lack district voting? He wasn’t clear, but seemed to imply). Concern about how to draw up districts. Want 6 districts.

Barbara Macri-Ortiz

Barbara Macri-Ortiz– In favor.  As an attorney she opines that Oxnard doesn’t meet legal requirements of this law for district representation- they’re not cut and dried, but have other arguments. Don’t get to vote for everybody in Congress, state legislature, Want to vote for someone who has your interests at heart. Have door to door capability for reps. City has gotten very large. Varying interests of poor, working poor and more affluent. District voting is closer to grassroots.

All speakers claim to be Oxnard residents or work there.

Also: Oxnard Chamber of Commerce rep Nancy Lindholm was not present, but distributed a letter asking for deferral of this item until after the special recall election, which would probably be in April, which is past the legally mandated resolution date.

 

Council Comments

Council Member Oscar Madrigal- In favor

Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez- In favor

Council Member Bryan MacDonald- In favor

Council Member Bert Perello- In favor-

Mayor Tim Flynn- In favor

 

Some League of California Cities members oppose the law as unconstitutional

Never brought up in public by the Council, City Attorney or staff was the fact that multiple members of the League of California Cities have fought this and/or are opposed to the law that has been used to force district voting.

Oxnard is a member of the league and should have been aware of this.  In case they weren’t, it was sent to multiple council members mid-month and to the full Council. City Attorney and City Manager on 11-27-17, as well as mentioned in the public comments section by Aaron Starr and George Miller. Since one of the main justifications for the vote was that it is forced and inevitable, this provides a potential remedy.. The actions were never brought up or discussed in public or any of the documents released. Citizens Journal became aware of it earlier in the month via emails sent to uand Social Media posts.

 

Here’s the agenda item, as published:

E. REPORTS
  City Attorney Department
1. SUBJECT: Resolution Declaring Intent to Transition to District-Based Elections (10/15/20)
RECOMMENDATION: 1. That City Council consider the adoption of a resolution declaring its intent to transition from at-large to district-based elections for members of the City Council pursuant to Elections Code Section 10010.2. If the City Council adopts the resolution declaring its intent to transition to district-based elections, that the City Council authorize the Mayor to execute an agreement with National Demographics Corporation for demographic services relating to the drawing of districts in a not-to-exceed amount of $70,000.3. If the City Council chooses to adopt the resolution declaring its intent to transition to district-based elections, that the City Council provide direction to staff whether it wishes to consider increasing the number of City Council seats.Legislative Body: CC Contact: Stephen M. Fischer Phone: 385-7483
Document: E1 Staff Report
Document: E1 Presentation
 
*  Author of this article.
 
Will add to this article if/as time permits.
 
Previous article:

Oxnard Council railroading district voting?

Oxnard Council railroading district voting?By George Miller The so-called California Voting Rights Act has been used to force municipalities to split up into voting districts to help ensure what some claim is fairer representation. The theory is that disenfranchised minorities would really prefer to elect other disenfranchised minorities, not the most qualified, competent candidates. That is being questioned. This […]


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One Response to Oxnard votes to consider district election of Council Members

  1. Lawrence paul Stein November 30, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Re:
    Effective date of Oxnard Election by District

    Mr. City Attorney, Ms. City Election Officer:

    The following is the text from the city’s web site under FAQ of Election by District:

    When will these new districts take effect?

    If approved, the new districts become effective on February 27, 2018, the end of the 90 day period. However, the first election to be held using these newly formed districts is anticipated to occur in November 2018.

    The reality is that the first election to take place is the recall election to be held after the effective date. If the council decides to maintain the current number of elective representatives, including mayor, there will be 4 districts. My conversation with elected representatives who spoke outside of closed session, led me to believe that they felt that expanding the number of elected representative would cause council meetings to run longer, thus they would be reluctant to expand the number of elected representatives. That being said, if the number if districts will be 4, then, as of the effective date, there will be at least 1 unrepresentative area, likely a large area south of Wooley Road. It is highly likely that neither candidate whose seat will be open in November will be from the unrepresentative area.

    Since the recall election will take place after the effective date, explain why or why not only the registered voters within the district of a recall candidate will be able to participate in the recall election.
    Please cite case law.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Lawrence Stein

    Reply

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