In its first run at transitioning to the by-district election system, the Carpinteria City Council has voted to divide the city into five districts for the November 2022 elections, with the mayor continuing to be appointed every two years by the council.
“This is kind of the launching point,” said City Manager Dave Durflinger. “By answering these questions tonight, it really cuts us loose to start doing the public outreach process.”
Since the city’s incorporation in 1965, Carpinteria has utilized an at-large system for City Council elections, meaning that the five candidates with the most votes are elected to the council.
In Carpinteria, the mayor has been appointed from that pool of council members.
With the district elections system, council members are only able to run in the district in which they live, and voters only vote for the candidates from their own district.
As part of the California Voting Rights Act, local jurisdictions are encouraged to implement the by-district election system in order to create more representation on boards and councils.
In implementing this system, the council was tasked with the decision of whether to split the city into either four or five districts. Five districts would be divided into roughly 2,700 people in each district, and four districts would constitute about 3,400 people in each district, according to the staff report.
If the council had voted to split the city into four districts, the mayor would be elected at large, compared to five districts where the mayor will continue to be appointed from the pool of council members for a two-year term, said program manager Olivia Uribe Mutal.
Carpinteria’s District Election Ad-Hoc Committee recommended choosing the five-district option in order to create two districts with a higher Latino majority area, according to the staff report.
“Five districts would allow the Latino community to have a greater chance to elect their ‘candidate of choice’ in seats that are 41% and 48% Latino, and that would be harmed in a four-district scenario in which their share of the electorate would is reduced,” the committee wrote in a memo that was included in the staff report.
It is also likely, the memo stated, that a 48% Latino district today would likely be a majority-minority district in future years, and may be required in 2031.
“The advantage of five versus four is that it gives a better opportunity for representation of communities of interest,” Durflinger said. “At the meeting of the committee, they received information and examples of how you could divide up the city geographically into districts, and by doing it in five, you got higher Latino majority areas within districts.”
With the by-district election system, City Council members will be elected to serve 4-year overlapping terms, and elections would be held every two years during even-numbered years, with a district voting in every other election, according to the staff report.
The districts that have the higher Latino population will be ordered to vote during the higher-turnout presidential election cycle, and the districts with fewer minorities would have elections held during the gubernatorial election cycle, Mutal said.
The numbering of districts itself does not have to be done until March 2022, she added.
Both Mayor Wade Nomura and Councilman Roy Lee expressed concern with five districts and not having an elected at-large mayor on the council.
“I feel that having four districts and an at-large mayor would be more important,” Lee said. “I think it’s time we let the community decide who is mayor. I think that is long overdue.”
Vice Mayor Al Clark, who serves on the District Elections Ad-Hoc Committee, said that the goal of district elections was to have more opportunities for minority population representation, so the primary focus of the committee was the number of districts, “not necessarily who is going to be the mayor.”
Ultimately, the council approved the five-district option by a vote of 4-1, with Lee opposed.
In the coming weeks, both online and paper mapping tools will be made available to city residents to start drawing district maps.
— Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.