City Council conducts first public hearing on Elk Grove's possible switch to by-district voting

A lifelong Elk Grove resident, Tarik Lawrence testifying in front of the Elk Grove City Council urging their
compliance with California civil right's laws. | 

At their regular meeting on Wednesday, September 11, the Elk Grove City Council conducted the first of four public hearings on a possible switch to by-district voting. The discussions were scheduled after the city council was threatened with a voting and civil rights lawsuits for their current at-large system.

At a previous meeting on August 28, at the urging of Mayor Steve Ly, four city council members - Steve Detrick, Pat Hume, Stephanie Nguyen, and Darren Suen - reluctantly agreed to explore holding by-district elections as early as 2020. Prompting this actions was a demand letter sent to the city by the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes threatened a lawsuit on behalf of their clients Elk Grove resident Andres Ramos and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Shenkman and Hughes have successfully sued other California municipalities that resulted in multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded settlements. They successfully argued that at-large systems similar to Elk Grove's violate the California Voters Right Act (CVRA) of 2001 and harm minority groups, most notably Latinos.

After a presentation from Elk Grove City Clerk Jason Lindgren on the process to convert to a by-district system, public comment opened, and 11 speakers participated. Of the 11, four were against the switch while seven favored.

The consistent theme presented by the speakers against by-dsitrict voting is the fear it might have on the city's rural area. Typical of these speakers was Shirley Peters of the Greater Sheldon Road Estate Homeowners Association, also known as GRESHA, which is in rural east Elk Grove.

"GRESHA residents support the from-district election method," Peters said. "It is the most democratic system."

Peters added that she thinks voters should decide whether Elk Grove changes to by-district elections.

Immediately following Peters was Karif Lawrence who said he supported the switch to by-district elections. Lawrence, who has lived his entire life in Elk Grove, noted the importance of having diverse representation on the city council.

"And for the first time I feel as though going by-district will help to represent who I am," he said. "When I look at this council, I don't see anyone who looks like me." 

Countering Peters, Lawrence also stressed by-district voting and representation well demand greater individual accountability of council members to address specific concerns to their neighborhoods. He also noted the by-district forces more accountability and responsibility on the mayor to represent the entire populace.

Amar Shergill, who for years has urged the city council to switch to by-district, used his three minutes as a teachable moment for the numerous high school students in attendance. An attorney by profession, Shergill stressed to the students the importance of recognizing institutional racism. 

"There is always a status-quo, and always a struggle for change," Shergill said. "In the history of the United State there are people of color asking for greater representation and there are institutions within our government that don't like that change because they like that power concentrated where it is."

Shergill said that this pervasive institutional mentality led to discriminatory practices like red-lining that deprived many classes of people of housing equality.

"They never said they were bigoted, or racist, they said they were just doing what they thought was right for the community," he told the students. "And that is what is playing out here. We have folks who don't realize that there is institutional racism."

Also speaking in favor of by-district voting was Maureen Craft who is a 2020 candidate for the city council's District 3 seat currently occupied by Steve Detrick. Craft who ran against Detrick in 2016 noted several other Sacramento-area municipalities have voluntarily moved to by-district voting and have avoided costly litigation.

"A lawsuit will cost use millions of dollars," she said. "Why will we want to put that on the heads of Elk Grove residents," 

Before the meeting, Craft and her 2020 District 3 opponent Kevin Spease were emailed seeking comments on the evening hearing and asked for their position on by-district elections. Spease did not reply to the request.

Craft, a longtime supporter of by-district reiterated her warning on the cost taxpayers could be exposed to by inaction. Additionally, she cited the city's violation of the CVRA.  

"As I stated at the Elk Grove City Council meeting last night, though I believe by-district voting is inevitable, I cannot believe the current Elk Grove City Council would spend millions of taxpayers’ money gambling on a lawsuit the city would lose. Voting by-district is a civil right."

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


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