Lake Elsinore City Council conducted the first of four public hearings regarding the proposed transition from at-large to by district elections Tuesday, Nov. 28. The goal of the hearing was to receive public comments and input regarding the formation of new voting districts.
The city was forced to consider the move after receiving a letter from the Malibu-based law firm of Shenkman and Hughes in September. In the letter, attorney Kevin Shenkman alleged the city’s current voting system disenfranchises voters of certain minorities and requested the city comply with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 under the threat of a lawsuit. Nov. 7, the city adopted a resolution of intent to transition the election system from an at-large to by-district system.
Lake Elsinore City Clerk Susan Domen led the public hearing, providing background on the issue. She said the city council appointed an electoral reform ad hoc committee in 2004, but at the time the city’s population was too small and voter registration was too low for there to be an impact and that the city should revisit the issue after the 2010 census or when the population reached 80,000 or the city reached 80 percent of buildout. Neither recommendation has been met at this time, however, the letter from Shenkman and Hughes has forced the city to revisit the issue.
“To date more than 65 districts and cities have converted,” Domen said. “The ones that have challenged Mr. Shenkman’s claims in court have all lost with the most damaging coming in at $4.5 million.”
Domen said that Lake Elsinore has always had a diverse council representation. Currently the 5-seat council has two Latino members, one African-American member and two Caucasian members. Something city attorney Barbara Liebold pointed out in her return correspondence to Shenkman.
“At the outset, your letter is fairly inaccurate,” Liebold wrote. “Had you conducted any research to familiarize yourself with the City Council beyond the gross generalizations and flawed assumptions, you would have known better.”
According to Liebold’s letter, Lake Elsinore city council has always reflected diversity and Mayor Thomas R. Yarborough, who served the city from 1966 to 1969, was the first African-American mayor in the state.
In the letter, Liebold said that the city believed Shenkman’s allegations were entirely “without merit” and even went so far as to accuse him of moving forward with the threats to line his own pockets.
“(We) wonder if your motivations are less to protect the city’s rich Latino population and are more to increase the bounty you collect from municipalities threatened by your same form letter,” Liebold wrote, adding that the city “demand reimbursement for the cost of work generated to support” his letter.
During the meeting, Domen said the proposed timeline showed adoption of the ordinance during the Jan. 23, 2018, city council meeting but at this time, the city is seeking input from its residents and council on the formations of districts.
No one in attendance choose to speak during the public hearing, including council who held no discussion on the item.
District boundary maps will be drawn by a professional demographer in consultation with the City Clerk and City Attorney based on the criteria in the law and public input, something of which has not occurred to date.
The next public hearing in the matter is scheduled for Dec. 12