By Kirk Sanderson
After reviewing several possible ways to create districts for future City Council elections, the Carlsbad City Council on July 11 settled on a map created by two residents who used the public map-drawing tools provided by the city’s professional demographers.
The next step in the transition to electing City Council members by district is to adopt an ordinance to make it official. The ordinance is scheduled to be introduced at the July 18 City Council meeting and adopted at the July 25 meeting.
The selected map is called “Cohen-Flock 1,” referencing the last names of the residents who created it: Arnie Cohen, a longtime community activist, and realtor Brian Flock, who ran for Carlsbad City Council in 2016. The two made strange bedfellows, observers note: Cohen was a vocal supporter of Measure A, the failed ballot measure in February 2016 that would have allowed a developer to build a mall on the south shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, while Flock was one of the mall proposal’s loudest critics.
In all, the city’s demographers prepared four options, and members of the public created 10 maps that would comply with the criteria for districts under federal and state law.
The city of Carlsbad has held four public hearings and six public meetings since receiving a letter April 5 alleging the city’s method of electing City Council members violated the California Voting Rights Act. Currently City Council members are elected “at large,” which means all voters in the city choose their City Council members. Under the new system, the city would have four City Council districts, with voters in each district electing a Council member who lives in that district. The mayor would continue to be elected “at large,” meaning voters from throughout the city would have an opportunity to vote for that position.
Similar moves are at either at play, or have already been instituted, in other North County cities. Like Carlsbad, they all were sent letters from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, demanding they switch to district elections to comply with the state’s Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 2001 in the hopes of increasing opportunities for Latinos and other minorities to elect representatives of their choice. The law specifies a number of factors for creating districts including equal populations, contiguous borders and common interests. According to the law, race should be a factor but cannot be the predominant criterion.
Before the law was passed there were only 27 cities in California with district elections, and now there are more than 60. In 2016, 21 cities in the state held district elections for the first time.
No city that has been sued over the 2001 state law has won in court. Palmdale was forced to pay $4.5 million to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, on top of its own legal fees, after fighting a similar lawsuit in 2015.
The Carlsbad City Council also voted on how to phase in the district elections, with district one, in the northwest part of the city, and district three, which runs west to east in the middle part of the city scheduled to hold elections in 2018. The other two districts will hold their first elections in 2020. City Council members serve four year terms.
Currently, City Council member elections are staggered every two years. The seats held by Council Members Mark Packard and Michael Schumacher are up for election in 2018. Council Member Mark Packard lives in Council District one, and Council Member Schumacher lives in district three. Council Member Cori Schumacher also lives in district one. Her term ends in 2020. She may run for the district one seat and, if successful, would begin serving that 2018 to 2022 term representing the district. If she chooses not to run in 2018, or if she runs and is not elected to represent district one, she would still serve out her current term as an “at large” City Council member until 2020.
More information about the change to electing City Council members by districts is available on the city’s website, www.carlsbadca.gov/districts.