California Voting Rights Act Prompts Arcadia to Draft District Lines

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The gradual transition to district-based elections may change where residents will vote as well as the voting outcomes for Arcadia. – Courtesy photo

By Monica Sanchez

On August 1, 2017, the City of Arcadia discussed the proposal to draft district lines for district-based elections in a public hearing after being threatened with a possible lawsuit based on the California Voting Rights Act.

The California Voting Right Act (CVRA)  was put into effect in 2003, and its intention is to ensure that all voters have a voice in local elections, specifically ensuring that the votes of minority groups are not being diluted in at-large elections.

Currently, Arcadia operates on an at-large voting system, but Attorney Shenkman issued a letter to Arcadia on June 6, 2017 notifying the city that it has 90 days to transition to district-based elections. Shenkman has also sent letters to other cities across the state.

If Arcadia were to fight the lawsuit to keep the status quo intact, then it would require paying a high price to do so. City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto cited Palmdale as an example of one city who took the matter to court, explaining how they paid upwards of at least $4.7 million dollars with additional legal fees.

Arcadia wants to avoid facing another lawsuit and brought this proposal public to receive community feedback before making any final decision on how to create district boundaries for local elections.

District boundaries will be created with minority groups in mind, in order to adhere to the CVRA, as well as community groups, such as Homeowner Associations, with respect to cohesiveness, contiguity, integrity, and compactness of territory. Creating separate districts within the city for district-based elections means that only voters who reside within a specific district will be able to participate in elections for candidates who represent the district.

Former mayor Sheng Cheng congratulated the city council on the transition, saying “with this change, the individual council member will be more accountable for the district he/she represents.” Cheng hopes that it will “represent the HO population distribution with demographic consideration.”

On the other hand, resident Roger Nemrava thinks “ it’s wrong that the city voters won’t be able to vote for all five council members. I believe our current election method is the best way to ensure residents are all heard.” In regards to drafting district lines, Nemrava insists that “this fractures the city and will result in special interest groups running the city.”

And resident Burton Brink said “we have a lawyer who does not live in our city suing all the cities in the state of California with an obscure law meant for large cities and not the size of the City of Arcadia. What will happen when city council members will no longer care about the whole City of Arcadia, but just the little piece of their district pie?”

Since there are generally five city council members, the city is looking at drawing up five separate districts. While the city is asking for public feedback on where district lines should be drawn, the city plans to hire the services of a professional demographer and topographer to help complete the project.

No action has been taken on the transition to district-based elections yet, as the City Council is waiting for further public feedback before proceeding.

Mayor Peter Amundson offered his view on the matter, saying that there was “no abuse of California Voting Rights Act here in Arcadia. It was pretty much the result of a lawyer, and we’re going this way not because we see a problem in the city, but because it’s the most fiscally responsible” course of action.

*Written for Arcadia Weekly

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