Final map selected for district elections

The Modesto neighborhoods that demanded a voice on the City Council in a 2004 lawsuit will be among the first to get a representative when Modesto begins replacing its citywide elections with district races next year.

A commission charged with drawing boundaries for council races Tuesday chose a final map and adopted a transition plan that calls for a west and south Modesto district, along with two others, to select a council member in next year's election.

Three Latino residents sued Modesto four years ago to press for election reforms that would benefit minority voters in those neighborhoods. They won the lawsuit, costing the city a $3 million settlement with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The district-drawing commission's recommendation hinders whatever re-election plans Councilwoman Janice Keating and Councilman Will O'Bryant had.

They were scheduled to run for re-election next year, but the commission's proposal places their neighborhoods in districts that won't choose representatives until 2011. Keating and O'Bryant could run to represent their neighborhoods then.

Councilwoman Kristin Olsen is the only incumbent who will be able to run next year. She lives north of Briggsmore Avenue in what will become District 5.

Taken together, the transition plan means the city will get at least two new council members next year. They'd represent a district centered on the La Loma neighborhood, and the south and west Modesto seat.

O'Bryant said the commission's work appeared fair and open.

"They have my support, trust me," he said. "I don't talk with these people, but I'm going to honor them."

Councilman Brad Hawn praised the way the commission crafted its proposal.

"It didn't get political," said Hawn, who can serve out his term through 2011. Councilmen Dave Lopez and Garrad Marsh can do the same.

The commission's recommended boundaries place the airport neighborhood with the adjacent La Loma area. Residents from both sides of Yosemite Boulevard advocated for that pairing.

The council map divides the city along Briggsmore Avenue with three districts north of it three south of it.

Boundaries can't be adjusted

Its proposal is scheduled to appear before the council in the first week of December. The council cannot adjust the boundaries, but it can return the map to the commission with comments.

The commission purposefully decided to designate the west and south Modesto seat for the 2009 election but pulled letters out of a wicker basket to determine when the other districts would go to votes.

Four residents who frequented the commission's meetings over the past five months selected the letters from the basket, adding a touch of humor to the meeting. The move in a sense put their fingerprints on the plan.

Adviser explained options

Modesto's charter barred the district-drawing commission from harming or benefiting incumbent council members and political parties.

Doug Johnson, a consultant advising the commission, walked its members through a mix of options, saying that any of their actions could lead to political repercussions for the incumbents.

"Tough," said retired Judge Hugh Rose III, the commission's chairman.

"It's the integrity and credibility of this commission that should weigh on any decision," said commissioner Noe Paramo.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.