Cooper Sponsored Bill Would Allow Cities Like Elk Grove to Easily Become 'By-District'

June 1, 2016 |

A California Assembly Bill authored by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D- Elk Grove) that would easily allow cities to become by-district representation passed last Friday and has moved on to the California Senate.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 2220, would allow a city with a population over 100,000 that elects its city council members on a from-district basis to convert to a district-based election method by ordinance. The bill was approved on a 54-8 bipartisan vote today by the California State Assembly.

In his advocacy for the legislation, Cooper said the bill gives minorities, who typically don't have the financial backing, the opportunity to participate fully in the governance of their cities.

“AB 2220 will ensure fair representation by giving minority communities the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice while affording them the power to influence local elections,” Cooper said.

Under current law, a jurisdiction with populations less than 100,000 may switch to district-based elections without voter approval. However, jurisdictions with populations over 100,000, like Elk Grove, may only convert to district-based elections if the governing body places the question on the ballot for voter approval at a high cost to taxpayers.

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, the Elk Grove City Council could switch from its current from-district system to a by-district format by a simple vote of the city council. From-district forms of city council governments are increasingly coming under attack from several civil rights groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund who content they exclude minority representation.

Although converting to a by-district system is now easier for Elk Grove, Councilmen Steve Detrick, Steve Ly and Darren Suen have strongly supported maintenance of the status quo from-district system for an obvious political advantage. From-district representation typically favors incumbents who have overwhelming financial advantages compared to a challenger who does not have the financial supporters, which in Elk Grove is real estate developers, to run a citywide campaign.

Elk Grove mayoral candidate and current Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease said that while a by-district system does provide more opportunity for city council candidates, it is not without consequences.

"I support reforms that promote opportunity for qualified candidates to compete on a basis of their visions, goals, and ideas, not solely on their ability to raise money. The idea of changing to a district-based election is an idea with merit but does have its' own negative consequences to be considered," Spease said. "A district-based election is not the total solution and is certainly no substitute for being present throughout the community, listening to the varied voices of residents, and building public participation city-wide."

The two other mayoral candidates, Joel Broussard, and incumbent Gary Davis did not respond to requests to comment on Cooper's legislation. If Elk Grove did voluntarily convert to by-district representation, the Mayor position would continue to be elected on a citywide basis.   


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