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Local News

Lompoc Council To Consider District-Based Elections After Letter Threatens Voting Rights Act Lawsuit

A local group has sent a letter demanding that the Lompoc City Council switch to district-based elections, the latest jurisdiction threatened with a lawsuit if changes don’t occur soon.

The warning urged the council to take action toward dropping its at-large voting system and instead carve the city into districts, which would each elect a representative to the panel. 

The letter, similar to those sent to Santa Maria, Goleta and Carpinteria, cites the California Voting Rights Act and gives the city 45 days to take action or face a lawsuit.

The July 21 letter signed by Santa Barbara-based attorney Micah Fargey names a pair of Lompoc residents, Sarah Salcedo and Erica Cortez Anguiano, as potential plaintiffs.

In addition to a letter, the council received a demographics report alleging racially-polarized voting in Lompoc, according to Jacqueline Inda from the county’s district-based election committee.

“We would hope the city of Lompoc goes to districts without needing a lawsuit and of course do it in a very inclusive way,” said Inda, who has been involved in the efforts to get several cities to transition to district elections, including Santa Barbara and Goleta. 

The state Voting Right Act, adopted in 2001, expands the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The state’s law makes it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in at-large elections, in which all city voters can vote for any candidate.

Lompoc council members discussed the topic in closed session at the Aug. 1 meeting, but did not take any reportable action. 

According to the draft agenda, the Lompoc City Council is scheduled to take up the topic in open session Tuesday night, with the meeting to begin at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.

The draft agenda includes a proposed resolution announcing the city's intent to change to district elections and establish a timeline for that process. 

The Lompoc notice claims two Latinos have been elected to the council in the past 25  years, and none have been elected as mayor. A U.S. Census community survey in 2015 determined 54 percent of the city's population was Latino or Hispanic. 

The goal of district elections is to boost community engagement and end racially-polarized voting, Inda said. 

“They really do have the opportunity to create and envision what the future of Lompoc might look like under districts,” she said.

Lompoc is the fifth Santa Barbara County city to discuss the change to district elections. 

Santa Barbara was served with a lawsuit in 2014, later settled, and held its first district elections in 2015. This fall, Santa Barbara city voters will participate in their second district-based election for picking council members.

When Santa Maria received a similar letter, City Manager Rick Haydon recommended starting the switch, saying other cities that balked ended up with costly legal bills.

Santa Maria previously fended off a challenge to its at-large elections, based on the federal law, in a lawsuit that was originally filed in 1992 and decided upon appeal in 2002, costing the city $1 million. 

After several hearings earlier this year, the City Council agreed how to divide the city into four districts, with the first election to be held in 2018.

Goleta, which intends to implement district-based elections by 2022, created a public engagement commission as part of its process. 

Carpinteria recently announced its intention to make the switch to district elections. 

So far, local cities transitioning to district elections have decided to keep their elected mayors an at-large election process, with all city voters weighing in.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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