Three maps to be considered by Elk Grove City Council for switch to by-district voting

During an hour-plus public hearing last night, the Elk Grove City Council selected three boundary maps to consider as the city takes steps towards by-district elections. That decision was made in what was the third of four public hearings on the change from at-large to by-district elections.

The change to by-district elections - where councilmembers live in a geographically defined area and are elected only by voters in that area, is likely to happen for 2020 Elk Grove elections. The change is propelled by the threat of a lawsuit from attorney Kevin Shenkman on behalf of the Southwest Voters Registration Education Project, who has successfully won litigation against cities that have at-large systems like Elk Grove which California courts have consistently determined violate the California Voters Rights Act of 2001.   

As part of the process, the city hired Glendale, Calif.-based National Demographics Corporation (NDC) to develop suggested districts for the 2020 election. In her presentation, NDC representative Shalice Tilton presented three proposed maps along with the current district map.

The three maps included a horizontal or layered map; a divided growth map; and the so-called multiple representative map. 

During public comment, all of the speakers - regardless of their support for the switch to by-district, urged the council to maintain current district maps for the 2020 election. The common theme for all speakers was to wait until the completion of the 2020 census for the mandatory restricting.  

One speaker, Danessa Antiles, told the council she was concerned about gerrymandered districts for short-term political gain for particular council members.

"I'm here today because I woke up and read an article in Elk Grove News titled Darren-mandering," Antilles said. "I am hoping this is a misinterpretation and that in fact that we are making sure voters have an equitable voice in our election."

Antiles was referencing a guest opinion piece by Amar Shergill raising concerns that Councilmember Darren Suen was seeking to game the map-drawing process for his political advantage. Suen has become unpopular with his District 1 constituents in the Stonelake and Lakeside neighborhoods because of his support of the controversial hospital project proposed by the California Northstate University. 

During the second public hearing on the by-district switch on September 25, Suen urged the NDC to draw maps that would remove the Stonelake and Lakeside neighborhoods from District 1. All three maps rendered by DNC removed those neighborhoods from District 1 as requested by Suen.

Kathy Engle, a Stonelake neighborhood resident, questioned the integrity of NDC, who was selected by city attorney Jonathan Hobbs. Engle noted all three maps created by NDC cut out Stonelake from District 1 and said it appeared to be gerrymandering. 

"I think all three maps intentionally cut out the Stonelake Neighborhood and I also have a problem with the people that did the surveying," she said.

Engle added that during the city's last redistricting in 2011, NDC was not selected because "there have been issues with them." See links to stories on NDC services in Davis, Calif. and North Carolina. 

"It looks like what they are drawing is gerrymander, plain and simple," Engle noted. "There is no question that Laguna West and Stonelake are sister communities."

Following up on Engle's concerns, during council questioning of Tildon, Mayor Steve Ly expressed concern that going to new maps for the 2020 election could create a pool of voters might not have the opportunity to vote for a district representative for up to eight years. 

Ly questioned Tilton saying, "could a voter because of the alternating terms that we have, and not everyone is not on the ballot at one time, could somebody be exed out of an opportunity to vote?" 

Tildon acknowledged that it could happen. Some voters could be excluded from voting for district candidates for up to eight years depending on the map-drawing process following the census. 

For example, if Lakeside and Stonelake neighborhoods were moved to District 4 for 2020, and then moved back to District 1 after the 2020 census for the 2022 election, they will not have voted for a district representative since 2016. District 1 is on 2016 four year cycle while District 4 is on a 2018 four year cycle.

Responding to what she said were numerous emails, Councilmember Stephanie Nguyen asked Hobbs to clarify the intent of the public hearings. Specifically, Nguyen asked to explain if the city will, in no uncertain terms, convert to a by-district. 

"My understanding is that we decided to go towards the by-district voting method and that with that came this process that we have to do maps," she said. "What I want people to understand it was an opportunity for us to hear from the community."

Hobbs affirmed Nguyen's comments but neither specified what election cyle the change will occur, although it is implied to happen in 2020. At one of the previous hearings, Vice Mayor Pat Hume explored stalling the switch by putting the question to voters.  

During their deliberations, the city council seemed to acknowledge the public's will that maps should remain unchanged for the 2020 elections. Suen, who had sought a more favorable vote for his 2020 election, seemingly accepted the Lakeside and Stonelake neighborhoods would continue to be in District 1.

"I was hoping to look at least, I don't see why there is a problem to take a look, but I was hoping to look at making sure that we have multiple representations or more representation on that side dealing with what we know are the flood issues and other things," Suen said.

Even though the council consensus leaned toward maintaining current boundaries, Vice Mayor Pat Hume suggested the council select from three alternates.

Hume and the council agree to consider three maps for the 2020 elections at the next public hearing on October 23. Those options include the current map, the divided/shared growth map (see map at top of the page), and the divided/shared growth map with the addition of the Lakeside and Stonelake neighborhoods. 

For the 2020 city council elections, Suen is the only declared candidate for District 1. District 3, which is currently occupied by Steve Detrick, has two declared candidates - Maureen Craft and Kevin Spease.

Craft and Spease were contacted via email seeking comment on last night's proceedings and the maps that will be considered in two weeks but neither responded by deadline.  

Although the four members of the city council opposing by-district elections - Steve Detrick, Hume, Nguyen, and Suen appeared resigned the switch, their mannerism and tone suggested frustration with the mandated process. Detrick best expressed their collective frustration during his deliberation comments. 

"It's not being done in a fair manner," Detrick complained. "It is being done with a gun to our head and that is the part that I find very, very offensive."  

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


Post a Comment Default Comments


Eye on Elk Grove said...

Well now, since when is not following the law fair. But then again, there is a history of Elk Grove Council members not doing just that, isn't here?

Unknown said...

I can't believe the representative from the company that draws districts for a living doesn't know how to pronounce Gerrymandering... or was she making a statement in pronouncing it "Garymandering?"

Josie said...

Good one Unknown...a little slip of the tongue or not?

I am finding that some of my friends and neighbors who attend or listen to each council meeting are becoming frustrated and feel they are being shut out of the decision-making process. These are people who do not attend the meetings in large part and feel it's past time for a change at the Peoples House. They suspect there may be much government business and striking of deals outside of the public eye. Our elected officials have all become too comfortable in their role playing and are easy to read! So much so that it's become difficult to attend or watch.

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