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District elections on Modesto agenda

Modesto City Council members on Tuesday are scheduled to craft a ballot measure that could alter how voters elect them.

They plan to discuss ways to phrase an advisory ballot measure that would ask voters whether they're ready to swap Modesto's citywide council elections with district races that require candidates to live in spe-cific neighborhoods.

They're also expected to hear from former Mayor Carmen Sabatino, who wants the council to spike the advisory measure in favor of an initiative that would create district elections.

In pursuing district elections, the council is following the advice of a 10-person committee it appointed to review the city's charter.

That committee recommended that Modesto adopt district elections because of its growing size, but the committee could not agree on which format the city should use.

Instead, it recommended that the council place an advisory measure on the November ballot to ask voters whether they'd prefer:

A pure district election system in which candidates would campaign to represent one of six separate sections of the city

A hybrid district election system that would call for the creation of two new council seats. Candidates could run to represent one of six districts, or they could campaign for one of two citywide seats.

The format that wins the advisory vote would return for a final vote in a later election.

Sabatino contends that it's wasteful to hold an advisory vote. He'd prefer the council cut to the chase by placing the district elections measure on the November ballot.

Regardless, the first elections that could be influenced by the proposals won't take place until 2009.

Modesto voters in 2001 rejected a proposal that would have implemented district elections.

Since then, taxpayer and Latino advocates have pushed for district elections for different reasons. The taxpayer groups want to improve representation, while minority advocates argue that district races would eliminate some barriers that prevent Latinos from winning office.

Modesto is among the four largest California cities that rely on citywide elections to choose council members.

In other business, the council is scheduled to hear a plea from the Brown Berets, an advocacy group that wants to declare the city an "immigrant sanctuary."

That status would discourage local agencies from working with federal immigration officials.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.