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Lompoc Sets First Public Hearing For District Elections Transition

The first public hearing on the Lompoc City Council’s switch to district-based elections will occur Oct. 3.

The City Council pushed the process forward to change from its at-large voting system, and also agreed to pay National Demographics Corporation up to  $58,600 to help create district election maps.

Lompoc is the fifth Santa Barbara County city to discuss the change to district elections, in which each council member is elected by a district instead of all city voters. 

“This item is a technical item but an important item,” City Attorney Joe Pannone said. “It’s part of the steps that the city will need to take in order to pursue the possibility of having district elections.”

Several weeks ago, Santa Barbara-based attorney Micah Fargey sent a letter on behalf of two Lompoc residents, alleging the at-large election system leads to racially-polarized voting and asking the city to implement a district-based system to elect council members. 

The July 25 letter, citing the California Voting Rights Act, gave Lompoc 45 days to act to avoid a lawsuit. Once the process starts, the city has a 90 days to finish it. 

The council’s action to schedule a public meeting on the transition came after earlier discussing the topic behind closed doors, citing potential litigation, and reviewing initial demographic data from NDC, which has cost the city about $10,000 so far.

Santa Maria used the same firm when the city went through the process earlier this year.

Pannone said setting an Oct. 3 hearing during a regular City Council meeting would get the process started by the Oct. 5 deadline.

That initial hearing would involve gathering input from the community, not creating maps.

In all, five hearings are planned, with maps to be drafted at later hearings and brought back for public review and eventual council approval.

Lompoc has 16,000 registered voters and districts typically are created by the number of actual residents, while considering communities of interest.

Those communities of interest could be renters versus property owners, people of various income levels, or based on the primary language used at home. 

Under federal and state guidelines, each district must have roughly the same population and be contiguous. Districts can be crafted using natural or manmade boundaries.

In Santa Maria, residents pushed to divide the city into four quadrants using the historical boundary of Main Street and Broadway, but the population required carving the districts somewhat differently.

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

Santa Maria, Goleta and Carpinteria also started the transition to district-based council elections after receiving similar letters that alleged California Voting Rights Act violations. 

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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