Voters to decide at-large or district elections

February 27, 2002
Santa Paula City Council
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesCome November, Santa Paulans going to the polls will have an important issue to consider after the City Council - on a split vote - decided to ask voters if they want the city carved into five voting districts or remain with an at-large system.The council approved placing the five-district measure at a special meeting held Feb. 22.Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa and Councilman John Procter wanted the approval to be pushed back to April so public input could help decide between district voting options. Districting could be configured with four districts and the mayor being elected at-large; a third option, two districts with the mayor being selected by all voters would have to garner approval from the state Legislature. Each district would elect a council member who lives within the district.City Attorney Phil Romney noted that in September the city entered into a stipulated agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that required the city to submit an ordinance to let voters decide if they want district council elections or to stay with the at-large system.The DOJ lawsuit was filed in April 2000 based on allegations that citywide elections favored whites and diluted Latino voting power. Prior to the suit being filed, the DOJ asked that the city change to a five-district election system to ensure Latino representation.Romney said that the number of districts must be determined for an ordinance as well as boundaries drawn before the measure is presented to voters.Last year the council approved on a split decision a $50,000 allocation for voter information and education about districting as well as the at-large system.
“I have not had any information to date other than what is being provided tonight and the community has no information on this issue,” said Espinosa.“I anticipated we would have had some community forums,” prior to voting, she said at the Thursday meeting. Such forums could be held and still meet deadlines, she added.Councilman Rick Cook said the DOJ was a proponent of the five-district method and he would only vote for same.“This is a no-brainer to me,” said Councilman Don Johnson. “. . .from the very beginning the DOJ wanted five council districts; we went around and around and I see no reason to delay this.”There are 10,734 registered voters out of Santa Paula’s total population of over 29,000. If voters approve five-district council representation it would be the first city in Ventura County to have anything other than at-large city council elections.

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