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District map confuses RP City Council

  • Rosemary Mojica addressing the RP City Council. Photo by Irene Hilsendager

  • Taking notes at RP City Council Photo by Irene Hilsendager

By: Irene Hilsendager
February 28, 2020

Tuesday evening, at the Rohnert Park City Council, the room was well attended but confusion and shouting from the floor was a circus in itself. The council was very adept at dodging and ducking the angry comments from the crowd. The residents wanted to see if the council would revise boundaries that begins with the 2020 election. 

As residents articulated their frustration at the council members, not a one of the many people that spoke supported the city council majority’s decision.  A local businessperson was loud but not obnoxious and shamed each council member while pointing at each with “shame on you. “It seems our political practices are coming back from many years ago.” Belforte, via a conference call, said, “This is not about me. This is politics. But the thing that concerns me most is clearly denying citizens the right to vote for their elected officials. We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we follow.” 

A well-spoken resident quoted Article 1 of the General Law Cities, article one enacted by statistics in 1994, section two. The term of office of any council member who has been elected and whose term of office has not expired shall not be affected by any change in the boundaries of the district from which the council member was elected. At the first election for council members in each city following adoption of the boundaries of council districts, a council member shall be elected for each district under the new district plan that has the same district number as a district whose incumbent’s term is due to expire. The successor to the office in a council district for which the boundaries have changed shall be a resident and voter of the council district AB 849 effective January 1, 2020.

Another “bug in the ear” for the evening was the residents questioning the origin of the map submitted by a resident a day before the deadline and also being personal friends with Marci Akin who submitted the map and the council chose. Ms. Akin is never seen very often at council meetings and seems to be a personal friend of Councilmember Susan Adams. 

Julie Broyes advocated for a plan that would see all three incumbents with a chance to run in 2020 and feels the people deserve to vote for their representatives.

The attendees who were so opposed led Councilmember Mackenzie to question City Attorney Michelle Marchetta Kenyon if she was correct in interpreting a state law that took effect in Jan. concerning rules guiding cities in redistricting properly.

Mackenzie felt that this is a very personal thing when we run for office, but I am not inclined to vote on this matter tonight as he wants the issue to be clearly resolved. Mackenzie offered a motion to delay for another two weeks on the chosen map, but it failed in a 3-2 vote- Mackenzie and Belforte voted no while Councilmembers Pam Stafford and Susan Adams joined Callinan in voting to go forward with the vote. Therefore the 3-2 vote again split along the same lines.

The districting and map situation have left Rohnert Park in an uproar since Malibu-based Kevin Shenkman set a letter to Rohnert Park last October alleging that the city’s election process for seats on the council has long disappointed Latino voters and violates the state’s voting rights law. Sylvia Lemus, a member of the Rohnert Park-Cotati-based Latino Alliance said, “Ranking maps by the term ‘legally defensible’ does not make it in the best interest of the community and in this instance, it seems to be in the best interest of the current incumbency. Our eyes will be watching what you do and how it will impact our community.”

Shelley Gomez added, “You are so embedded in your privilege, you have chosen not to see us. The failure is not ours; the failures are yours.” 

Rosemary Mojica wanted to know why Akin’s map was chosen and not use an independent firm to draw up different maps? It seems some back-door deals were made, and the A section neglected. There should be an impartial panel and have it fair for all in the city and anyone can have a chance to run for city council.

Someone mentioned that things were not correctly thought out and the west side of town is at a disadvantage with the mixed land.

Councilmember Pam Stafford gave her opinion by saying, “It is not the easiest thing to be sitting up here on the council. We work hard and try to be fair but anytime anyone wants to throw their hat in the ring, you are welcome to do so. I know there has not been a Latino on the council for years, but each of you are welcome to run for the next election.”