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Carpinteria Approves Change to District-Based Voting for City Council Members

With no discussion, the Carpinteria City Council approved a resolution Monday to transition from at-large to a district election system by November 2022.

The move comes after the city was threatened with a lawsuit claiming the voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act, or CVRA. The claim states the at-large voting method in Carpinteria has resulted in “racially polarized voting and abridgment of Latino voting rights.”

Monday’s decision came on a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Bradley Stein absent.

Under the agreement, the council retains discretion over whether to establish four districts with a mayor elected at-large or create five districts with the mayor appointed by the council, according to Dylan Johnson, the city's legal counsel.

The council now has five members who live in Carpinteria and are elected by voters across the entire city.

In a district-election system, the city will be divided into separate districts, and voters living in each section will elect one person who lives in that area to fill a seat on the council.

Johnson said Carpinteria has utilized an at-large election system for council seats since its incorporation in 1965.

Transitioning to the new system requires the council to hold four hearing to consider district maps. The city is required to conduct the hearing no later than 2022, according to a staff report prepared by Johnson.

Carpinteria plans to draw maps after census data is released.

The lawsuit alleges that since 1994, voting statistics related to City Council elections and ballot measures provide evidence of racially polarized voting. It states that seven of the 58 city council candidates have been Latino since 1994.

The agreement also requires the city to pay the plaintiffs $30,000 in compensation fees for preparing the notice of violation. 

“Litigating a California Voting Rights Act claim is a risky and potentially costly proposition,” Johnson told the council.

According to research conducted by other cities, Johnson said, attorney-fee awards to plaintiffs have ranged from $400.000 to $3.5 million.

On June 30, Santa Barbara-based attorney Robert Goodman sent a letter to Carpinteria threatening litigation if the city declines to adopt district-based elections.

Goodman represents Jatzibe Sandoval and Frank Gonzalez, both Carpinteria registered voters.

Gonzalez took to the podium during public comment to stress that his intention is not to make money for him.

“I will not be receiving any financial gain — not one dime — the motive is for the community,” Gonzalez said.

The cities of Goleta, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara have all been served with notices of violation of the CVRA. Each city ultimately elected to transition to district elections. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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