The newly sworn in Turlock City Council voted to approve City District assignments, per the newly adopted Measure A, at Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Measure A, the proposed initiative to change the manner in which City Council elections are held passed with 73.96 percent voter approval on Nov. 4 which will change Council elections from an at-large method to a district method, with the City split into four districts with one member representing each.
The Mayor of Turlock would continue to be elected at-large with any registered voter from any Turlock district able to vote.
Though there was no impending legal action being taken at the time of the City putting the measure on the November ballot, the measure was taken out of caution for the City to rid itself of a potential legal challenge under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
According to City Manager Roy Wasden, the Latino Community Roundtable sent a letter to the City of Turlock stating that they believed the City’s at-large elections were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act and put the City on notice for the potential of a legal claim.
An “at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters who are members of a protected class,” according to the Act.
The City of Modesto spent $1.7 million, ultimately losing a California Voting Rights Act case, and was forced to pay an additional $3 million in plaintiff’s attorney fees.
The districts, which divide Turlock in four equal districts, were created by the City Council in May and are in line with State and Federal laws that require each district to be approximately equal in population; adjustments based on new census data are allowed without voter approval.
The lines, according to Wasden, were drawn by Doug Johnson of National Demographics Corporation after workshops were held at various locations around town where electoral methods were discussed and community input on the overall matter was received. The district lines that were ultimately adopted by the Council did take community input into consideration.
The Council approved the designation of DeHart to represent District 3 and Jacob to represent District 1, of which those members live in their respective districts.
According to Wasden, the intention was for district lines to be drawn in a manner that put the previous Council into separate districts per Johnson’s plan, but Councilmember Steven Nascimento asked that the provision be omitted so as to not take the current Council’s place of residency into consideration; Nascimento’s amendment was accepted.
As all current councilmembers have been elected at-large, as long as they continue to be otherwise eligible to serve, regardless of their residence, they will remain eligible to serve on the Council during the transitional period.
Changes will take effect in 2016 for the two council seats up for election at the time.
Seats currently belonging to Councilmembers Amy Bublak, first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012, and Nascimento, first elected in 2012, will be the first subjected to district elections.
Starting in 2016, the two even-numbered districts, 2 and 4, will be up for election, and in 2018, odd-numbered districts which now belong to DeHart and Jacob.
Should Bublak, who also resides in District 3 which is now designated to be represented by DeHart, wish to serve on the Council after the expiration of her term, she would either have to wait two years to run against DeHart, or move to either District 2 or 4.
The item was passed unanimously by the newly sworn in City Council in a 5-0 vote.