City of SLO Still Negotiating Election Models After Voting Rights Act Notice | News | San Luis Obispo


More than two years after learning that its electoral model violated California voting rights law, the city of San Luis Obispo continues to push back against the allegation, which has prompted dozens of cities in the state, including three in the SLO County, to be adopted by -district election models for their municipal councils in recent years.

In the latest development, SLO officials said they recently agreed to another extension of time with Santa Barbara attorney Robert Goodman to avoid a trial under the Voting Rights Act – until May 10.

“We have entered into a series of requested extensions,” said SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick. new times. “We are largely awaiting additional data that we have not yet received. … Our analysis of the data and facts about the composition of our community does not confirm that district recourse is a well-suited tool to advance our community goals.”

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  • Photo by Peter Johnson
  • STANDING FIRM The City of San Luis Obispo is pushing back on allegations that the City Council general election violates state voting rights law.

The SLO first received a “notice of violation” regarding its electoral model in November 2019. In the notice, Goodman, representing City resident Jamie Gomez, claimed that the SLO’s general electoral system “impedes the ability of sheltered classes to elect candidates of their choice. and their ability to influence the outcome of elections”.

The notice mirrored many others who were sent to cities with general election models across the state.

“District elections are sweeping California,” reads Goodman’s letter. “To the knowledge of this office, no California government agency has successfully defended a complaint alleging a violation of California voting rights law.”

Facing costly lawsuits, with slim chances of success in court, other cities, including Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and Grover Beach, have capitulated to the threat and are now in the final stages of adopting new maps. for their councils before the 2022 elections.

But the city of SLO has not moved. Dietrick explained that city leaders did not believe district elections in SLO could significantly improve the representation or influence of minorities on the city council.

“We reviewed the most recent census data and re-evaluated whether or not in light of that census data and the demographics of our community, it is even possible to build a minority or minority-influenced district,” said Dietrick said. “Our conclusion is that it is not possible to do this.

“We fully support the goal of advancing equity,” she added. “It’s just a question of whether it’s the right tool to advance those goals in the context of the facts on the ground here.”

Goodman could not be reached before press time, but in his 2019 notice of violation, he argued that dividing the city into geographic districts is a tried and true remedy for achieving more diverse representation. He claimed that while nearly 30% of SLO’s population is non-white, only 10.7% of city council candidates since 2000 have come from a protected class – and those candidates have only won 9, 3% of the votes.

“District elections bring government closer to the people,” Goodman wrote. “There is a wider range of opinion in the city council and greater representation from all wards and the whole community. The ward elections lead to a greater ward identity and have been accompanied by a greater diversity of all kinds within elective bodies.”

Ahead of negotiations, Dietrick said the California Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a potentially precedent-setting case involving the city of Santa Monica and a neighborhood association, which sued the city for adopting an election model. by county.

“[Santa Monica’s] the demographics and the nature of the arguments they make are potentially very relevant,” Dietrick said. “We hope the Supreme Court will issue these guidelines.

And as to why SLO takes a different approach than other cities in SLO County to litigation under the Voting Rights Act, Dietrick said it comes down to dollars and cents.

“I think what happens with a lot of cities is that they look at the defense numbers of the cities that fought it, and it goes from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions. [of dollars]and it’s quite intimidating,” Dietrick said. “I think the trend is often to take advantage of the safe harbor.

“That’s not how we like to spend money,” she added. “But also, our council is truly committed to advancing our goal of diversity, equity and inclusion in the big city in ways that are meaningful to the community.” Δ


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