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Manteca may switch to district council elections
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When 2022 rolls around you may not be able to vote to re-elect Jose Nuño to the Manteca City Council should he decide to seek a second term if you live south of the 120 Bypass.

It’s because there is a chance the council may pull the trigger on switching to four council districts and an at-large mayor by then instead of having all council members elected citywide.

Interim City Manager Lisa Blackmon informed council members funding for such an effort is being included in the budget being prepared for the fiscal year startng July 1.

Switching to district elections would require making sure each council district has roughly the same number of residents as well as other considerations including the ability for underrepresented segments of the community to have a better chance of having someone of their ethnicity elected to the council.

The reference to district elections came up during the council discussion on whether to impose a different limit for city elections than the $4,900 cap the state allows an individual to contribute to a campaign in a given year.

Every council member rejected the need to do so. But several made an observation that district elections where you had to have your message reach just a quarter of the population would reduce the funds one needs to seek election to the council.

If the council favors going to district elections and the city can get it in place in advance of the next municipal election, it might be the best time to implement such a change.

That’s because the initial two council seats that would be subject to district elections would have incumbents that likely would not fall within the same district. Nuño lives north of Lathrop Road while Dave Breitenbucher resides in the Powers Tract neighborhood just north of the 120 Bypass.

At the same time the 2024 election would likely have incumbents with enough separation not to tempt the use of gerrymandering to make districts work that accommodate where they currently live. Charlie Halford resides in east central Manteca while Gary Singh is south of the 120 Bypass.

The council three years ago had three members that resided within blocks of each other near Woodward Park.


District elections first

brought up in 2018


A previous council in 2018 first brought up the subject of district elections. Instead of hiring a demographer  for $35,000 as staff recommended they instructed staff to ask the  University of the Pacific’ regional center graduate  students to analyze census tracts within the city to determine their ethnic makeup. That information would have been used to demonstrate one way or another if minorities are under represented on the council using neighborhoods as a measuring stick. After the council gave direction, nothing happened.

The subject of district elections was raised by Cantu, who was a candidate for mayor at the time. He made district elections a campaign issue but did not pursue it as an ethnicity issues even though he has Latino blood and there were no Latinos at the time on the council despite the 2010 census showing 36.8 percent of the city’s population as Latino compared to 49.6 percent being Caucasian. The only non-Caucasian on the council prior to the 2018 election was Gary Singh, who is a Punjabi American.

Cantu instead was pursuing it from the perspective of neighborhoods being unrepresented on the council. At the time three of the five council members lived south of the 120 Bypass.

There are currently two Latinos on the council — Cantu and Nuño. Breitenbucher and Halford are Caucasian and Singh is Punjabi American.

Manteca has had only two Latino office holders. They were Wayne Flores and Vince Hernandez. Neither ran as a Latino nor did Cantu or Nuño.

Why the ethnic makeup of the council matters has to do with the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 that requires district elections when it is determined citywide elections aren’t providing the opportunities for Latinos and other minorities to be elected.


District elections

avoid costly lawsuits


No California City has ever prevailed in court after refusing to go to district elections when a complaint about the electability of Latinos or other minorities has been made. Modesto in 2008 ended up spending $3 million in its losing effort to retain district elections. Most recently, the City of Palmdale in Southern California had to pay out $4.5 million in legal costs

Prior to the Voting Rights Act adoption in 2002, only 28 of California’s 482 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 four years 79 more cities have gone to district elections for councils 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, failed to do so, got sued, lost, and were forced to pay a large legal bill. the first election after district voting was implemented 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 wouldn’t produce Latino majority districts.

In Manteca, areas that have between 26 percent and 46 percent Caucasian based on the 2010 Census data are for the most part north of Woodward Avenue south of Louise Avenue and east of Cottage Avenue.

The one area where Caucasians are the lowest — between 26 and 36 percent — is bounded generally by Louise Avenue, North Nain Street, Center Street and the Tidewater Bikeway.


Manteca council districts

would have 21,200 residents


The highest concentrations of Caucasians based on the 2010 Census is north of Lathrop Road and the Chadwick and Primavera neighborhoods east of Airport Way in northwest Manteca.

The California Legislature in 2016 adopted a law that would give cities some protection from massive legal bills and to give them time to take steps to avoid lawsuits. The law gives cities 135 days to switch to district elections through the ordinance process after it is warned it could be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.   

If the city moves to change to district elections by ordinance within the prescribed time, there is a $30,000 limit on the amount cities must reimburse attorneys or groups that challenge the election system providing no lawsuit is filed against the city.

Manteca Unified has always had the requirement that board members must reside within a specific area or district but voting was districtwide until 2016 when the district switched to area elections.

The city, if they end up going to district elections, theoretically could have them in place before the 2022 election cycle starts with filing candidacy papers in the summer of 2022.

Using the Department of Finance estimate that Manteca had 84,800 residents as of Jan. 1, 2020 a switch to district elections would require each of the four districts to have 21,200 residents each.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email