City faces possible lawsuit if they don’t switch to district elections; next public hearing Monday, May 1
Kevin Shenkman of the law firm Shenkman and Hughes has issued a notice of an impending lawsuit against the City of Pleasant Hill if they do not move to by-district elections. The attorney is representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) and the Pleasant Hill Community Alliance.
Founded in 1974, SVREP is the oldest and largest non-partisan Latino voter participation organization in the United States.
The Alliance is a community group composed of residents and California Voting Rights advocates who have been working tirelessly to ensure that the city’s district maps are drawn in a fair and equitable manner that accurately reflects the communities of interest within the city. However, their efforts have been met with resistance from the City Council, who have refused to take into account the input of residents and instead have instructed a demographer to create two maps that appear to be based only on councilmember input.
According to the City’s districting process webpage, the Council is considering remaining with five council members and a rotated mayor and maps with five districts or changing to a city-wide, directly elected mayor and maps with four council districts. Following the April 17, 2023, public hearing, the City demographer prepared a draft electoral division map with five districts and another with four districts. In addition, five more five-district maps were submitted by members of the public, including Draft Map 2 submitted by the SVREP and the Alliance referred to below as the “Minority Coalitions”. The seven draft maps are available for viewing by clicking on the links on that page. The City will hold public hearings on May 1, May 6, and May 22, 2023, to discuss and gather feedback on the draft maps.
The draft maps look to protect incumbency, with jagged lines drawn around councilmembers’ homes and the homes of candidates from the 2022 City Council election. In addition, it appears that Councilmembers have instructed the demographer to diminish minority votes in East Pleasant Hill by creating only one minority majority coalition, when there could be two. The minority coalitions in Pleasant Hill which are largely composed of Asian, Latino, and mixed-race residents.
The Alliance is deeply concerned about the City Council’s actions and the potential harm that could be done to the democratic process if these maps are adopted. They have called on the City Council to reconsider their approach and to work with the community to create district maps that accurately reflect the interests of all residents.
“We cannot stand by and allow the City Council to ignore the voices of the community and create district maps that are designed to protect their own interests,” said Alliance spokesperson Michelle Simone. “We will take all necessary action to ensure that the democratic process is upheld and that the voices of all residents are heard.”
The Alliance is urging residents to attend the next City Council meetings on May 1 at 7pm and May 6 at 2pm to voice their concerns about the proposed district maps. They are also calling on the City Council to work with the community to create district maps that accurately reflect the diversity of Pleasant Hill.
A post on the group’s Facebook page challenges the districting maps claiming they result in “cracking” which reduces the influence of Communities of Interest, specifically minority communities. The post reads, “Cracking refers to the practice of drawing electoral districts that divide the population of a community or constituency across several districts. In doing so, the influence of the community or constituency may be reduced, preventing the group from forming a voting block within any single district sufficient to elect the group’s preferred candidates. This practice contrasts with packing, in which the population of a community or constituency is consolidated within a small number of districts, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Cracking and packing may be used in conjunction to minimize the influence of a particular voting bloc to benefit another, a practice referred to as gerrymandering.” https://ballotpedia.org/Cracking
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.