Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Moving to Districts - 2017
1. Why is the City considering changing the election process?
On September 6, 2017 the City received a letter from Robert Rubin, Esq., of San Francisco demanding that the City Council elections transition from the current “at-large” method to by-district” in order to conform to the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). Mr. Rubin asserted that the City of Ventura is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 because “racially polarized voting” occurs in the city.
The City Council is taking advantage of AB 350, California Elections Code 10010, which provides for a short window on opportunity to discuss, invite and receive public input and ultimately decide if the City should adopt a District Based Election Process.
The key provisions of AB 350 affords the City an additional 90 days to comply before a lawsuit can be filed as it is safe harbored from litigation throughout the public hearing and ordinance process.
2. What are the Federal and California Voting Rights Acts?
The Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA) was adopted in 1965 and is intended to protect the rights of all citizens to participate in the voting process. The CVRA was passed in the California State Legislature in 2001, based on the Legislature’s belief that minorities and other members of protected classes were being denied the opportunity to have representation of their choosing at the local level because of a number of issues associated with at-large elections. Upon a finding of a violation of the CVRA, the act requires that “the court shall implement appropriate remedies, including the imposition of district-based elections that are tailored to remedy the violation.” As such, the default remedy and the clearly identified remedy by the Legislature is district-based elections.
3. Have other cities encountered this? What did they do?
Dozens of cities, school districts and other local agencies in California have faced similar challenges in recent years.
Other cities have voluntarily or been forced to adopt changes to their method of electing City Council members. While some cities have settled claims out of court by agreeing to shift to district elections, others have defended at-large elections through the court system and have incurred significant legal costs because the CVRA gives plaintiffs the right to recover attorney fees.
4. What kind of legal costs can be incurred from a CVRA lawsuit?
Settlements are typically in the six, or even seven, figure range. For example:
- Palmdale: $4.5 million
- Modesto: $3 million
- Anaheim $1.1 million
- Whittier: $1 million
- Santa Barbara: $600,000
- West Covina: $220,000
5. Why haven’t cities prevailed in challenging these allegations?
The threshold to establish liability under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is considered low. The Federal Voting Rights Act requires four conditions to be met to prove a city is not in compliance. The CVRA only has two condition requirements.
6. What has the City done to prepare for these demands?
In October 2014, the City Council appointed a group of residents to serve as the Charter Review Committee.. One of the issues studied by the Committee was whether or not the City Council should switch to district elections. After a year of reviewing this and other items, the Committee recommended, in a divided vote (7-3), that the City Council go to districts.
When the City Council considered the Charter Review Committee’s potential Charter amendments, the Council opted to have a charter amendment considered by the voters that has the method of electing members of the City Council be adopted by ordinance of the City Council.
This charter amendment was on the November 8, 2016 ballot as Measure N, to have the City Council adopt an ordinance determining how its members would be elected. Measure N passed.
The significance of this charter amendment is that since the method of electing Councilmembers is adopted by ordinance, the City can use the safe harbor provisions of AB30 to transition to districts.
7. What are by district elections?
A by-district election process means voters within a designated Council electoral district elect one City Council member who must also reside in and be a registered voter of that district.
8. What are the Pros and Cons of by district elections?
- Each geographic area of the city is represented
- Viewpoints that might not be citywide can be represented
- Minority candidates (racial or political) have a better opportunity to be elected
- It will likely cost less to run for City Council since citywide campaigning is not required
- Each voter has a specific Council member to contact for assistance
- Voter’s choice is simplified with less candidates to learn about
- Council members may represent only the interests of their districts, not the whole city
- Candidates may be elected with few votes
- Council members may have divergent views, may conflict with each other
- District lines have to be reviewed and possibly redrawn after each census and significant annexation
- Best qualified candidates may be concentrated in one district
- Depending on staggered terms, not all voters may be voting each election, reducing overall turnout
9. What is the City’s current City Council election process?
The City of Ventura currently elects City Council members through an at-large election process, which means that each voter elects all members of the City Council.
10. What criteria are used to create Council electoral districts?
Many factors may be considered, but population equality is the most important. Other factors include:
- Communities of interest
- Be compact
- Be contiguous
- Have visible (natural and man-made) boundaries
- Include respect for past voter selections
- Plan for future growth
City Council adopted a resolution indicating its intent to transition to district elections, and will hold at least four public hearings will be conducted to take public testimony, suggestions, and allow for community input in developing maps meeting these elements.
11. What are communities of interest?
A community of interest is a neighborhood or community that would benefit from being in the same district because of shared interest, view, or characteristics. Possible community features or boundary definitions include:
- School attendance areas
- Natural neighborhood dividing lines such as roads, hills, or highways
- Areas around parks and other landmarks
- City borders
- Common issues, neighborhood activities or legislative/election concerns
- Shared demographic characteristics, such as:
- Similar levels of income, education or linguistic isolation;
- Ancestry (not race or ethnicity)
- Languages spoken at home
- Percentage of immigrants
- Single-family and multi-family housing units
12. What is the timeline for the change?
The districting process timeline is prescribed by the California Election Code 10010.
The City has a 45 day period (from the receipt of the letter dated September 6, 2017) to consider if it desires to transition to election by districts and to adopt a resolution indicating so. If the City Council adopts a resolution indicating its intent to transition to districts, the City has 90 days to do so. This is a total of 135 days for this process.
13. When will the new districts take effect?
With Council adopting a resolution to transition to election by districts, the ordinance will need to be adopted by January 14, 2018, and will be effective for the 2018 Election.
Under the safe harbor protection of AB 350, the City Council is tasked with making the decision on the map instead of a judge. Should the City go to litigation and lose, Ventura residents would not be asked to participate by providing input. The judge would determine our district maps.
14. How will the change to by-districts affect me?
Beginning in 2018, voters will only be able to vote for one City Council candidate who resides in the electoral district in which you live.
The current City Councilmembers will continue in office until the expiration of their terms and until their successors are elected and qualified. The first district elections will be held in the November 2018 General Election (Four Districts). The next district elections would be held at the November 2020 General Election (Three Districts).
15. Who creates district boundaries?
A professional demographers hired by the City to create proposed district boundaries and our residents. Tools are available for the public to draw and submit maps. Residents are able to provide input on boundaries, suggested criteria for creating boundaries, beyond what is legally required and submit maps. The deadline to submit a map is November 17, 2017. The district process will be transparent and accessible to all residents in the City of Ventura. Ultimately, the City Council adopts an ordinance establishing district boundaries.
16. How can I participate?
Residents in Ventura can attend upcoming Public Hearings (December 18, 2017) at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall, 501 Poli Street, to learn about next steps in determining the process.
If you are unable to attend the meeting, the City of Ventura is pleased to provide you with live and archived public meetings online. The City Council meetings are also broadcast live on CAPS Channel 15.
The City’s website will be updated as new information becomes available.
16. Where can I learn more?