Turlock residents to vote on council district elections

This city will start a transition to council district elections if voters approve Measure A next month.

City leaders have felt the same pressure as other local governments and school districts: Either elect governing board members by district or face a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. The law has enabled groups to contest at-large elections by showing that voting patterns keep minorities from winning office.

The City Council voted in June to put Measure A on the Nov. 4 ballot. If approved, it would carve Turlock into four council districts with the aim of giving better representation to Latino residents and the disadvantaged south area of the city. Though the ethnic group makes up 36 percent of Turlock’s population, there are no Latinos on the five-member council.

A plan creates districts with equal population in the southeast (District 1), southwest (District 2), northeast (District 3) and northwest (District 4) quadrants of Turlock. Council members would be elected to four-year terms in Districts 2 and 4 starting in November 2016. Districts 1 and 3 would be on the ballot in November 2018.

Candidates for office would have to reside in the districts where they seek election. The mayor still would be elected by a citywide vote. More than a 50 percent “yes” vote is required to adopt district elections.

“In my view, it’s very likely voters will agree to this,” said Mayor John Lazar, who is not seeking another term Nov. 4.

District elections are supported by the five candidates running for two council seats in next month’s at-large election. But candidate Sergio Alvarado said he has mixed feelings about Measure A.

“The intent of these measures is not always what happens in reality,” Alvarado said. “You can have district elections, but it does not stop someone from renting a house in a district and then there is no change. I will support (Measure A), but only for the city to avoid getting sued.”

Approval of district elections would make continuity of service more difficult for an incumbent such as Amy Bublak, whose term expires in 2016. The councilwoman lives within the proposed District 3 boundaries and would need to move to District 2 or 4 to seek re-election that year.

The city held workshops in each quadrant to share proposed district maps with the public. The City Council approved the districting plan on a unanimous vote June 10.

Modesto started electing council members by district in 2009 after losing a lawsuit costing taxpayers $3 million. Today, the Modesto council includes four white men, a woman and two Latino men.