By-district Elk Grove City Council elections approved by a 3 - 1 vote; change to take effect in 2020

In voting against the move to by-district voting, Elk Grove Vice Mayor Pat Hume said that under
his interpretation of the California Voters Rights Act of 2001, he did not believe the city was violating
civil and voters rights. | 

After two hearings that lasted over an hour that included over two dozen public comments, the Elk Grove City Council voted 3 - 1 last night to adopt a by-district form of election for the 2020 city council elections. The sole dissenting vote came from Vice Mayor Pat Hume, and Councilmember Stephanie Nguyen was absent from the proceedings.

The vote came after the city held four public hearings on switching from the current at-large system, which has been in place since the city's incorporation in 2000. Four members of the city council, including Hume, Nguyen, Steve Detrick, and Darren Suen, have consistently resisted calls for the last several years to voluntarily change with only Mayor Ly supporting the citizens' requests.   

Although Suen and Detrick joined Ly in supporting the change, they did so only after the city received a demand letter this summer from attorney Kevin Shenkman who has successfully represented the Southwest Voters Registration Education Project. Using the California Voters Rights Act of 2001, Shenkman sued several California municipalities arguing at-large systems are a violation of the civil rights law. 

As part of the four public hearings, the city also considered how districts were to be drawn for the 2020 elections. After receiving extensive public comment tonight and at the other hearings, the city council agreed to maintain current district boundaries for the next election.

The city council had considered two other maps, one of which was viewed as being politically advantageous for Suen, who has become unpopular in his district because of his support for the controversial California Northstate University hospital project in the Stonelake neighborhood. During the two public hearings where those maps were considered, voters criticized them, claiming Gerrymandering for Suen's benefit.

After the city council decided to use the current maps, they then deliberated on the making the switch. The deliberations centered on comments from Hume, who opposed the change, and Ly, who argued on several fronts for its passage.

In his comments, Hume said he read the CVRA, and his interpretation was that the city's form of at-large elections was not in violation of the law. 

"First, it does not make the distinction that was called as a from-district, it lumps that in with the at-large system," he said. "I think that is wrong." 

Hume represents District 2, much of which is Elk Grove's rural area and includes a greater number of older, white, and more conservative voters than the city's non-rural neighborhoods. Of the four speakers who spoke during the public hearings, all were older white voters, and three were District 2 residents, while supporters of by-district were a much larger group of age and ethnically diverse residents. 

Following Hume's comment, Detrick asked city attorney Jonathan Hobbs what would happen if the city decided not to adopt by-district voting in the parameters of Shenkman's demanded letter and the CVRA.

"If the council chooses not to do that, then you are exposed to litigation," Hobbs said. 

After Hobbs responded to Detrick, Ly asked Hobbs if he was aware of any city which has successfully defended a CVRA lawsuit, and in those cases where they lost what did it cost. Hobbs said he was not aware of any city successfully defending a suit and that the potential cost if Elk Grove lost would be several million dollars.

Following his answer, Ly then asked Hobbs his analysis of the possibility of defending a lawsuit. Hobbs told Ly "frankly cities have not faired very well in this type of litigation when sued." 

Hobbs added that he did not think there is discriminatory or polarized voting in the city, but added it would be difficult to defend. He said in spite of the city's from-district status, it is still considered an at-large system in the eyes of the law. 

Ly then pointedly asked Hobbs for his recommendation. Hobbs responded, saying, "well the staff's recommendation, which I support, is to move towards a by-district approach in the light of the risk of litigation."

After hearing Hobbs' opinion, Ly noted he has long supported the change to by-district elections, and rather than risk potentially costly litigation, he would rather devote financial resources to things like infrastructure. Ly also threw down a political marker in the case the council was to vote against the change to by-district voting and expose taxpayers to a multi-million dollar liability.

"I don't want it hanging on my head, if you want to do that, go right ahead," he said as he addressed his council colleagues. "Because it will become a campaign issue, I guarantee that."

With the vote, current District 1 and District 3 races in 2020 will be by-district, and District 2 and 4 in 2022, while the mayor will continue to be every two years and elected citywide. Following the 2020 census, the four districts will be redrawn.    

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.










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10 comments

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

It is heartening to see this change made after the city council stalled action on this matter for the last three or so years. While civil and voter rights victories should be taken regardless of how they are achieved, if not for the threat of Mr. Shenkman's lawsuit, it is unlikely the city council would have changed.

The lesson here is that the Elk Grove City Council will only take pro-people actions, in the words of Mr. Detrick, when there is a gun to their head. The only thing that motivates them is money, and in the case of our city council members, it will sadly be in the form of cash from their patrons.

Nonetheless, it is good to see the women and men in white hats win a battle.

Randy Bekker said...

What was witnessed last night was an over throw of a dully elected city government by the people. A vote changed by the threat of a law suit with no facts. As Council members won their districts in the past, the future is not much different except now there will be no accountability of 3 Council members by the voters since your only able to vote for your Council member. With this new system of government it will turn to the old days of projects being put into your districts even when that district residents will not in favor of the project like affordable housing, CNU. What seems to be a win for the progressives the citizens in Elk Grove are the true losers. I think what upsets me the most is this change was done at the threat of a law suit that citizens that elected a government had no say, no vote. In other countries you would see a civil war!

Spoons and Forks said...

Randy, perhaps you would be well served to be reminded that we have three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial. As you may remember from high school civics, each is considered an equal.

As such, a civil lawsuit is a hard-wired part of our form of governance. Did you ever study some landmark Supreme Court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education? Because the legislative and executive branch would not provide equal education opportunities, the people, led by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, took their grievance to the judicial system, i.e., a lawsuit not unlike Elk Grove's situation - and the Judiciary did what the other branches of government would not do.

I am quite sure given your political inclinations, you were quite pleased with another lawsuit, Bush v Gore. You win some, you lose some.

The point Randy is that while you may not be happy with this victory for civil and voters rights, this is how our system works. Jon Hobbs obviously understood the city was fighting a losing battle in one of the three branches of government and admitted as much, hence the change.

Finally, to rip a quote from someone I am confident you admire - Mick Mulvaney, "get over it." The sky is not falling in Elk Grove.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

I'm thinking of moving to the "new downtown", rent one of those "Elevate" units, and run for office in District 56!

White Hat said...

Sadly the women and men in the white hats didn't win, the bullies won.

Josie said...

DJB...You're confusing me. Moving to District 20 and run for office in District 56. Can you do that?

Spoons and Forks said...

White Hat did I miss something - you say the Bullies won? The only Bullies are Steve Detrick and Pat Hume. They have the black hats!

Eye on Elk Grove said...

Where did Pat Hume go to law school? By his comments last night, it appeared to me that he thinks he is on the U.S. Supreme Court; sitting right next to Brett Kavanaugh.

His comments were appalling and mirror the sentiments of segregationists who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964; that being "We don't need this!"

And he wants to be on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors? Take heed people, Hume revealed his true self last night.

As Maya Angelou is famous for saying, "When people show you who they are, believe them!"

White Hat said...

Eye on Elk Grove Hume's comments were right on the mark and very well spoken.

Spoons and Forks I didn't stutter, Steve Detrick and Pat Hume are the true heroes here, as they're aware of what the people voted for.

Randy Bekker said...

Spoons an Forks, I know how the 3 forms of government works. Since gray areas an loopholes are also part of the judicial system it is clear what has happened here. As there is no factual evidence that would warrant a change that over turns a government that was formed by voter approval. You can tell all those that will be affected to just get over it as they now will only have one vote as their council member will deal with projects like CNU an those citizens will no longer have a recourse. Where I live I was impacted years ago by the same type of government by the county. It is a happy life here in Old Town! Those that live in Laguna in the future that they will have no voice. My time educating those of what we dealt with under a similar government is coming to a close as I will sit on the porch drink sweet ice tea an watch the chaos an those that will complain their voices were taken away. Then you can tell them just get over it! Have fun

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