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September 22, 2020
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New Rohnert Park Advocacy Group

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
June 5, 2020

To advocate is an activity that aims to influence decisions in political, social, economic, or other settings. The advocacy may take the form of recommending, pleading, or supporting some issue or concept in order to influence public opinion and change policies or processes. In a democracy, advocates play an important role in social and political systems. 

Examples on a national level include the ACLU, NRA, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign and US Chamber of Commerce. A state example would be the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Examples in our county, are Sonoma County Housing Advocacy Group and Senior Advocacy Services and Rohnert Park now has FAIR-RP. 

FAIR-RP is a recently formed advocacy group. Their mission statement says they are “dedicated to fair and inclusive representation in the governance of Rohnert Park.” Twenty founding members came together during the city’s transition from at-large to by-district elections. Community representatives: including Latinos, African and Native Americans, fleshed out their goals and by-laws. They will elect their Board of Directors during a June meeting. 

Groups like this don’t spring up without a reason. As you recall, in October 2019, the city was pressured to change the election process by threatened litigation alleging the existing “at-large” process violated the California Voting Rights Act. In November 2019, the city decided to move to “by district” elections. That decision kicked off a process of drawing potential district maps. After a series of public hearings and the development of over a dozen possible maps, Ordinance 944 was passed by a vote of 3-2 in February 2020. It created five districts for city council elections. It also sequenced the order of elections for 2020 and 2022.

The process was contentious. During the two public hearings and five council meetings, the council heard 56 speakers in opposition to the proposed map and adopted resolution. According to spokesperson Chris Borr, the city council “has consistently ignored public input that has called out unfairness and inequities” in this change process. He stated that the council is not prioritizing citizen requests or Latino representation. In sequencing the 2020 elections they pushed off to 2022, districts with high concentrations of Latinos. Drawing district maps that have been described as “gerrymandering,” they protected three incumbents. A fourth council member was blocked from running for reelection for two years.

The goal of their group was not to antagonize the city council; rather, they wanted to work with them in a transparent effort to remedy what they believed was a deficient decision and correct the perceived unfairness of that decision. On April 10 they submitted their initial proposal. They knew they didn’t have “deep technical knowledge of procedural and legal requirements. So, on April 15, they asked for guidance from the city manager and city attorney. They wanted to ensure their proposal was feasible as an option and within the framework of the California Voting Rights Act and other applicable laws. On April 24, after consulting with the city attorney, Mayor Callinan told the group he did not “believe that your proposal is legally viable.” He provided no further clarification.

Continuing to work in good faith, on April 27, FAIR-RP submitted a modified proposal. According to the proposal, it complies with and is empowered by Title 4 of the California Government Code; and Divisions 10 and 14 of the California Elections Code Sections. The proposal seeks to ensure no incumbent is disadvantaged and that no district is unable to select their own representatives in 2020.

Five specific actions are recommended. They are: 

• Replace Ordinance 944 with a new ordinance that adopts this proposal. 

• Continue to use the adopted map

• Temporarily expand the council from five districts to seven. In 2020 the five “by-districts” (1-5) would each vote for their own representative. The two incumbent council members, with terms expiring in 2022, would represent District 6 and 7 as at-large council members.

• In 2020, Districts 1, 3 & 5, elect their representative to 2-year terms. Thereafter their election terms revert to four-year terms. Districts 2 & 4 would elect council members to the standard 4-year term.

• In 2022, the two at large districts (6 & 7) are dissolved and the city has fully transitioned to new by-district elections with staggered 4-year terms.

FAIR-RP believes “fairness is achieved when the Rohnert Park community’s overall best interests are met in a transparent and honest way.” For additional information or if interested in the work of this advocacy group, you can contact Chris Borr at 707-849-5046.