Manteca’s elected leaders have formally set in motion a move to end citywide elections for four council seats.
Instead, starting in 2020 unless for some reason the City Council back tracks, voters in 50 percent of Manteca will elect two council members who must reside in two of the four districts the current council ultimately adopt after work by outside demographers is completed and district boundaries drawn.
The other two district seats will be filled in the 2024 election cycle.
Now the question is whether the council ultimately will embrace Councilman Charlie Halford’s advocacy for a mayoral primary system to start with the 2022 election.
Council earlier this month by consensus instructed staff to explore the steps associated with moving to a mayoral primary as well as a cost analysis.
Halford said his push for a primary was driven by a concernin races where there are more than two candidates running for mayor. Someone who does not have the majority support of voters participating in the election could get elected.
If someone wins 50 percent plus one vote in a June primary they would be elected outright. They wouldn’t, however, be seated until December. It is similar to how primaries work for San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors elections.
The switch to district elections means the mayor will be the only seat decided by a citywide vote. And while the four other council members will continue to serve the interests of the entire city, they are likely to be subject to greater pressure to respond to more localized neighborhood issues when they run for their prospective seats.
That means the only seat on the council that would need to get elected with a citywide campaign would be the mayor.
At the same time while the mayor doesn’t have the power to act independently of the council and the council can only take action when a majority of its members agree, the mayor sits in the proverbial bully pulpit.
Given he runs meeting and essentially does most of the talking at council meeting, he sets the tone for the council and — by extension — the city. The mayor is also the face of the city at a number of public events.
Concern is mayor could
get elected with less than
majority vote in only
citywide election contest
Halford noted Manteca in 2010 elected a mayor, Willie Weatherford, who only had 43 percent of the vote meaning “57 percent of the voters wanted someone else.” He pointed out last fall Tracy elected a mayor who had only received 35 percent of the vote.
“I think we need a mayor who the majority of voters elect and not 35 percent,” Halford said at the Sept. 7 council meeting.
Halford also noted twice since 2008 Manteca council members have been elected who did not have a majority of voters but instead by a plurality as three or more candidates were running for the same seat.
So far four people — all current council members — have indicated they are pondering a run for mayor in 2022. Besides incumbent Mayor Ben Cantu who has indicated he plans to make an official announcement soon, those mulling a run are Dave Breitenbucher, Gary Singh, and Halford.
The primary system would also mean whoever incumbents — or challengers — in the two district races that take place in the same election cycle as the mayor’s race would be able to run for their respective district seat if they ran for mayor and didn’t advance to a runoff in November.
In the current situation Breitenbucher could run for mayor, not advance from the primary, and still run for a council seat assuming his residence is still in a council district that is drawn and in place for 2022.
There is no guarantee that the four incumbents will each end up in their own districts once district boundaries are drawn. However, given how the four council members are all essentially on different sides of the city — Halford northwest of the historic center of Manteca at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street and Breitenbucher to the southeast while Gary Singh is south of the 120 Bypass and Jose Nuño north of Lathrop Road — it is high unlikely more than one incumbent will end up in the same district.
The parameters guiding
creation of council districts
The resolution the council adopted last week spells out how the districting process will proceed.
*Each council district shall contain a nearly equal population as required by law. *No council district shall be drawn with race as the predominate factor in violation of the principles established by the United States Supreme Court in Shaw v. Reno.
*Each council district shall consist of contiguous territory in as compact form as possible.
*Each council district shall respect communities of interest, as much as possible.
*Each council district border shall follow visible natural and man-made geographical and topographical features, as much as possible.
*Each council district shall attempt to avoid head-to-head contests between incumbent Councilmembers, insofar, as this does not conflict with federal or state law.
*Council district known to be areas of higher-than-average population growth, in the two to five years following this boundary line adjustment, may be under populated within the population deviation amounts allowed by law.
The last point in the resolution could impact how the district south of the 120 Bypass is drawn. Based on current new home building trends and what projects are breaking ground or are about to do so, if Manteca continues growing by 600 homes a year and 90 percent of those are built south of the Bypass the district the southern part of the city is in could grow by 7,500 plus people by 2025.
The way to avoid a big imbalance within five years of new districts going into place would be a scenario — if allowed by law — to have the southernmost district designed to absorb the increase. The other way is to design two districts to absorb the increase given it could be done on an east-west geographic approach.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com