The City of Turlock will likely be divided into four equally-sized, geographically focused districts from which councilmembers will be elected, following council action Tuesday night.
Turlockers currently elect their councilmembers at-large; councilmembers may live in any part of the city, and all Turlockers vote for each councilmember. But due to a threatened lawsuit, the City of Turlock is in the midst of switching to district elections, where residents of a district elect only one councilmember to represent them. The mayor would continue to be elected at-large.
The Turlock City Council selected a map defining those districts on Tuesday, following months of planning and six community meetings.
The selected map, Plan A, attempts to create four evenly sized voting districts. The two other options took other approaches; Plan B would have sought to keep some neighborhoods together which would be split in Plan A, and Plan C would have emphasized the importance of downtown, giving each Turlock City Councilmember a share of Downtown Turlock as part of his or her district.
“I think (Plan A) splits the city in fours pretty equally,” Turlock City Councilmember Forrest White said before the vote. “… The city, I believe, is most equally represented.”
Plan A divides the city quite plainly into four districts, with a northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest district. In Plan B, only one councilmember would represent the westside.
Plan C was initially endorsed by some councilmembers, including Bill DeHart and Mayor John Lazar. But Lazar was the only one supporting Plan C on Tuesday night, as he lobbied for a continued focus on downtown’s renaissance.
“I’m partial to having the downtown represented by each councilmember for a number of reasons,” Lazar said. “… The downtown will need our care and attention in the future.”
Councilmember Steven Nascimento said he liked how Plan A was easily understood by voters, with clear lines drawn between districts. He noted it was supported by the people, both recieving 55 of 112 votes in a formal poll, conducted at two recent community meetings, and more than 50 percent of the vote in an informal online vote Nascimento conducted.
Councilmember Amy Bublak supported Plan A simply because the people supported Plan A.
“I’ll go with the numbers, and not what my preference would be,” she said, not stating her personal preference.
The Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors likes the current, at-large system of elections, Chamber CEO Sharon Silva said. But the board passed a resolution in support of the change regardless, due to the threat of lawsuits.
“I don’t think you have much choice but to move forward on this,” Silva said.
The switch to district-based voting from the current at-large system comes due to the threat of multi-million dollar litigation. As the city currently has a large Latino population but has not elected any Latino councilmembers, the city could be considered in violation of the 2002 California Voting Rights Act.
The City of Modesto spent $1.7 million to fight a California Voting Rights Act case which it ultimately lost, and was then forced to pay another $3 million in plaintiff’s attorney fees. Even lawsuits which are settled in a single day have ended in six figure settlements.
And should Turlockers vote down the shift to district elections, it could be considered “proof” of racism by lawyers, leading to an immediate lawsuit.
Silva said the chamber would work to educate citizens on the importance of the vote.
The District Election map will return for a final vote on June 10, at which time the Turlock City Council will also consider placing the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. It will cost approximately $30,000 to place the item on the ballot, Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden said.
If approved by vters, the new districts would first take effect for two seats in the 2016 election, replacing the expiring terms of two at-large councilmembers. The remaining two seats would take effect in 2018.