Murrieta to consider change to ‘by-district’ election system during May 8 special called meeting

Failure to have a quorum at the May 2, Murrieta City Council meeting brought city business to a grinding halt, preventing any discussions on agenda items and prompting the city to call a special meeting Monday, May 8, at 4 p.m.

In spite of the threat of legal action, Mayor Rick Gibbs and Councilman Kelly Seyarto were unable to conduct business for the city due to the absence of Councilmen Randon Lane and Alan Long and Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Ingram.

Shelved was a discussion on moving from at-large election to a by-district election system for the city. The discussion was scheduled in response to a letter received by the city in late March from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes that the city’s current citywide, or “at-large” voting system dilutes the ability of Latinos – a protected class – to elect city council candidates of their choosing. The letter alleges that the at-large voting system violates the California Voting Right Act and demands that Murrieta transition from at-large to district-based city council elections and threatening litigation if that demand is not met.

“If the City of Murrieta does not bring its elections into compliance with the law promptly, we will have no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect the voting rights of the Latino residents of Murrieta,” the letter, written by Kevin Shenkman reads.

According to a report prepared by assistant City Attorney Chris Cameron, the City Attorney “was not aware of any city in the state that had successfully beaten CVRA lawsuit” and that “given ever changing demographics, a city that survives a challenge one year, may be susceptible to it the next.”

The report disclosed that in September 2016, Assembly Bill 350 was signed into law amending the Government and Elections Codes simplifying the process of converting to district-based elections and providing a way for cities to avoid unnecessary litigation by providing a safe harbor process for that purpose. The report claims the expense to change to a by-district voting system should be no more than $30,000.

“Due in large part to the challenge and expense of defending CVRA lawsuits, in Riverside County alone, the cities of Moreno Valley, Eastvale, Menifee, Corona, and Hemet have already moved to district-based elections. Still more cities are in the process of making the conversion in light of a spate of recent demands,” Cameron’s report reads.

According to the meeting agenda, council planned on adopting a resolution of intent and holding the first of four public hearings on the issue. Due to the absences of the Lane, Long and Ingram, the business was shelved until a special meeting Monday, May 8, at 4 p.m.

Other items that were held, until the next regular council meeting included adoption of a resolution approving a License Agreement for three years with an additional five, one year renewals, with JACC & Co. to operate a 2.3-acre portion of the Murrieta Equestrian Park and adoption of a resolution approving the City of Murrieta’s revised Emergency Operations Plan.

2 Responses to "Murrieta to consider change to ‘by-district’ election system during May 8 special called meeting"

  1. Theta Young   May 21, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Can someone put this in plain English for me? What does it mean that Latinos can’t elect a candidate of their choice? Aren’t they able to go to the polls like everyone else? And just what candidate would Latinos want to select that they need to single themselves out?

    Reply
    • Kim Harris   May 22, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Hi Theta, basically, that is what the lawyer who is sending the letters to all of the California cities is alledging – that Latino’s who are a protected class are being out-voted by everyone else in an at-large election. We are currently working on a story that should explain everything more clearly, but in a nutshell, if the city opts to divide into 5 districts, then one of those districts would be a majority population of Latinos.

      Reply

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