Turlock could set example for district elections

05/08/2014 8:25 PM

05/08/2014 8:26 PM

The city’s move toward district elections has caught the attention of a statewide group that promotes sound public policy.

The Institute for Local Government, based in Sacramento, is tracking the process to see if Turlock could be a model for other cities considering a move from at-large elections to boost minority representation.

Program coordinator Christal Love-Lazard, who attended a council workshop on the topic Wednesday evening, said the goal is to avoid costly legal battles over district elections.

“We hope to create a toolkit, something we can use to help other cities do this,” she said.

The workshop was the first of two this month on possible boundaries for four council seats; the mayor would be chosen at large. The council could choose a map in the next several weeks and place the matter on the November ballot. If approved, the new format would take effect with the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Turlock officials have said they want to protect the city from a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act of 2002, which minority activists have used to push for districts.

The city of Modesto sued to overturn the law on the grounds that it appeared to give preference to certain races. The U.S. Supreme Court declined in 2007 to hear the city’s petition, and Modesto paid a $3 million settlement to attorneys for the other side. The next year, voters approved a ballot measure that phased out the at-large system.

Love-Lazard said a grant from the James Irvine Foundation is paying for her work on the Turlock process. The city was chosen because of its size and convenient location, she said.

The institute was founded in 1955 by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties.

Wednesday’s workshop at the Turlock Public Safety Center drew about 20 residents to review three sets of maps drafted by National Demographics Corp., a Glendale-based consultant to the city.

All aim to create a district with a sizable number of Latinos who are eligible to vote. Plan A would put it in the city’s southwest quadrant, south of Fulkerth Road and west of Golden State Boulevard. Plan B would place it downtown and in other older parts of the city. Plan C would have this district in the same boundaries as A but would draw the other districts differently from A or B.

Milton Trieweiler, a longtime resident of West Main Street, said he likes C because it would best serve the Latino people who have moved into his area.

“I think this Plan C is very well-situated,” he said. “It brings Turlock together.”

Plan B won support from Maggie Mejia, president of the Latino Community Roundtable of Stanislaus County. It has been urging city councils and school boards to shift to district elections so no more money goes to out-of-county attorneys.

Minaret Avenue resident Ann Strahm said she preferred Plan A because it is the “least partisan.” She objected to C because it places a part of downtown in all four districts, which she felt could mean too much influence from businesses in the city core.

The council can choose one of the three maps or come up with something different. It has budgeted about $60,000 for the process.

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