The Rohnert Park City Council meeting held its regularly scheduled meeting Tues., Jan. 14 in the council chambers at 139 Avram Ave. The agenda for the meeting was extensive; however, the main tasks for the evening was to conduct a fourth public hearing on moving from “at-large” elections to “by-districts” elections for the city council members.
You may recall, the city was pressured to change their long-standing election process by threatened litigation which alleged the city’s “at large” election process violated the California Voting Rights Act. Although the city disputed the allegations, they recognized the risk of litigation as well as potential costs involved in going to court even if they won their case. Therefore, the city council adopted Resolution 2019-140 Nov. 12 and declared their intent to change the election process to “by-district.” This means the city’s liability to a potential plaintiff would be capped at $30,000. The city estimates the cost of transitioning to the new process is estimated at an additional $50,000. Had they gone to court to fight the allegations; the potential liability could have been in the millions.
Once the city passed Resolution 2019-140, a process was initiated to make the necessary change to comply with timelines set forth in California’s Election Code (Section 10010). The city was required to hold at least four public hearings, two of which had to be held prior to drafting proposed maps for election districts. The city held the required pre-map meetings Nov. 12 and Nov. 26. A third public was held Dec. 10 to review eight potential maps submitted by the public at large and by consultants from National Demographics Corporation hired by the council to assist with this transition. At that meeting the council directed staff to remove from consideration the proposed maps not meeting legal requirements and to draft additional maps for consideration at a fourth public hearing.
Of the original eight maps two were considered not viable because they didn’t meet required guidelines. Map 104 seemed to be favored by comments of council members although maps 101 and 106 had their supporters. Since then, five additional maps were proposed and available for review on the city’s website. They are labeled 109, 109b, 109 c, 110 and 111. Two of these 109b and 109c appear to be unadoptable because they too are outside of election guidelines.
Map 109 appears extremely similar to previous May 101 originally proposed. Yet with four of the five existing council members located in the fifth district shown within both those maps 101/109 they are not likely to be adopted.
At tonight’s meeting after a review of all map options, the council had just a few choices they could make. They could select a final map and introduce an ordinance establishing the five districts. If a final map is not chosen they could change it at the final public hearing to be held Jan. 28.
The RP City Council moved ahead with the plan to shift to the district-based elections and then selected a final. Map with boundaries that will protect the three incumbents who are up for re-election from having to run against each other in Nov.
Mayor Joe Callinan said “I feel for Rohnert Park. I was born and raised here. I was born on Arlen Dr., so I do care about sections A, B, D- and all sections. I despise the election stuff. Someone is going to get elected and not care about the entire Rohnert Park and that scares the hell out of me.”
Council member Pam Stafford, who will be up for re-election says, “As a council member I feel that I represent the whole of Rohnert Park, I don’t just represent the street that I live on.’ We are in a situation that we do have to pick something so we can move on. So, pick one because we will be having to do it over anyway.” The vote for map 110 was 4 to 1 in favor with Council member Belforte not in favor of it.