Lathrop voters could elect council members by district instead of citywide starting in 2022.
The Lathrop City Council is conducting a special meeting on Tuesday, May 29, at 5:30 p.m. at Lathrop City hall, 390 Towne Center, to consider the possible switch from at-large election of council members. Also on the agenda is a study session item regarding Lathrop Police services options.
If the council opts to go to district elections the city would use the results of the 2020 Census to draw boundaries based on population.
The consideration of district elections is being spurred by the California Voting Rights Act of 2002. The state law prohibits agencies from imposing or applying an at-large election method if it impairs the ability of a protected class determined by race, color, or language minority group to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.
Lathrop already has one of the most racially diverse city councils in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal is Punjabi American, Paul Akinjo is Black, Martha Salcedo is Hispanic, Steve Dresser is Filipino, and Mark Elliott is Caucasian.
If Lathrop switched to district elections, four council members would be elected by district and the mayor at large.
If the city switches to district elections and adjusts district only every 10 years based on the U.C. Census they could create a situation where a significant number of its future residents are under represented on future councils. That’s because River Islands where 11,000 homes are being built as a planned community will have the lion’s share of population gain in the coming years.
pondering whether to
switch to district elections
Manteca’s City Council in February directed staff to take steps to determine whether there are concentrations of minorities clustered in defined neighborhoods that would trigger a successful lawsuit to force district council elections based on ethnicity make-up that could end up costing Manteca taxpayers millions of dollars.
The council told Manteca municipal staff to ask the University of Pacific regional center’s graduate students to analyze census tracts within the city to determine their ethnic makeup. That information would be used to demonstrate one way or another if minorities are under represented on the council using neighborhoods as a measuring stick.
Manteca’s action is a pre-emptive move to avoid the city from being caught flat-footed should they receive a letter challenging the electability of minorities in Manteca with the citywide election format now in place.
By having a demographic study done doesn’t means that district elections will happen in Manteca. It is simply to arm the city with facts that it could use to determine a course of action in the future or minimize legal exposure should they be sued.
No California City has ever prevailed in court after refusing to go to district elections when a complaint about the electability of Hispanics or other minorities has been made. Modesto in 2008 ended up spending $3 million in its losing effort. Most recently, the City of Palmdale in Southern California had to pay out $4.5 million in legal costs.
There are now 88 cities out of 482 in California that have district elections.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act adoption in 2002, only 28 cities had district elections. After the law was passed, nine went to them including Modesto that had to be sued to switch. In the past two years 22 more cities have gone to district elections for council including Visalia that also got slapped with a heavy legal payout by the courts. Most of the other cities switched when threatened by lawsuits.
Visalia, which is 46 percent Latino, never has had a Latino council member. They declined to switch when a complaint was made, got sued, lost, and were forced to pay a large legal bill. Last November none got elected to the council because no Latinos ran for the two seats that were available.
The law is based on geography groupings of districts as much as on ethnicity. That means if a city has neighborhoods that are fairly well integrated that would produce Latino majority districts.
Manteca Unified has always had the requirement that board members must reside within a specific area or district but voting was districtwide until two years ago when the district switched to area elections that will take place next month for the first time
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