YOLO SUN OPINION :
Demographic inevitabilities have finally begun overtaking Woodland’s (elected at-large) political system — where Latino members of its City Council during recent decades may be swiftly named: Art Pimentel, elected in 2004 and 2008.
In 1998, Latino candidate Michael Contreras received 13.2% of votes, but needed twice that many to win (in many local city council elections, winners begin to appear around the 20% level of total votes).
In 2006, Xavier Tafoya, a Latino candidate, received about 18%, but was defeated by Skip Davies (~40%) and Bill Marble (31.5%).
Fred Lopez (member of Woodland Planning Commission) was a Latino candidate in the 2008 City Council election, garnering about 10% of cast votes, less than half of what was needed to win a council seat.
More Latinos (47.4%) than Whites (42.1%) now live in Woodland, according to 2010 census data.
Asians are a very distant third place. ~50.000 of the town’s ~56,000 residents (89.5%) are either White or Latino.
Rumors arose during Woodland’s 2012 municipal election cycle, that a legal challenge using California’s landmark, 2002 “Voting RIghts Act” (CVRA, Elections Code, sections 14025-32) would ensue well in advance of 2014.
___ “At-Large” Elections Disfavored by CVRA ____
The CVRA targets “at-large” election formats for reform, with legal cost burdens landing upon local governments and districts which choose to resist conversion to a “district-based” format.
“At-large” elections are elections in which voters of the entire jurisdiction elect members of the relevant governing board.
The CVRA disallows use of an “at-large” election system, if it: “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election” (section 14027). “Protected class” refers to voters of a legally relevant (statewide) ethnic-minority status.
“District-based” elections, wherein only voters so residing within a geographic area are relevant, is the simple objective of this political reform.
Voluntary reform makes it possible for a local agency to create its own election districts, rather than having these become court-drawn within legal proceedings.
City Of Modesto resisted this election reform, reportedly paying $4 million in legal fees, then settled the lawsuit by eventually accepting the reform. Other pertinent legal examples have duly established a reasonable, well-ordered trend toward voluntary election-system reform whenever any credible CVRA challenge arises.
Only one Latino city council member being recently elected in Woodland — while Latinos have clearly demonstrated robust demographic significance and inevitable primacy — is a legal slam-dunk for CVRA reform.
All that is really needed, would be to file this credible legal case, and the city would be very well advised to soon settle by accepting the (obviously impending) reform.
___ CVRA Challenge Received, Obscured ____
On January 15, 2013, Woodland City Council appointed a committee (Bill Marble, Tom Stallard) to consider and evaluate its policy position regarding this CVRA challenge and to soon report back to the council.
The staff report associated with this agenda item offered that: “One member of the community has requested that the City shift to district-based elections.”
When Yolo Sun asked for a copy of this “request” — it turns out that there is not: “One member of the community” involved — but rather, there is — “a group representing the Latino community” — which have lodged this CVRA challenge.
Repeated requests of Yolo Sun, for the city to specifically identify this “group” and to disclose relevant, written material have been ignored.
City officials are apparently clamming-up and circling their wagons in advance of the likelihood that this white-hot, unsettling and variously influenced political item will be coming onto the agenda for the city council meeting of March 19, where one might well expect relevant disclosures to publicly occur.
The California Public Records Act allows the city ten days to respond, so it makes sense to simply await release of the council’s March 19 agenda.
Clearly, the city seems intent toward attempting to — negotiate with this “group representing the Latino commuinity” — in secret — regarding its (various) potential policy positions, rather than to — at the outset of such affairs — make broadly public the general nature and circumstances of this CVRA challenge.
For instance, the present city council may attempt to preserve a vestige of “at-large” elections by means of getting this “group representing the Latino community” to agree to a resolution involving dividing the city into only four districts, with a mayor still being elected “at-large.”
___ Practical Effects of CVRA Reform ___
Of course, there is no way to assure that Latinos will actually become elected within a reformed, district-based format; the CVRA goal is simply to incline electoral potential in that general direction by removing the most prodigious obstacle: “at-large” elections, where Latino votes most often suffer serious dilution among the more active and wealthier White electorate.
In fact, the CVRA doesn’t even require any (resulting) electoral “districts” to contain a majority of minority (”protected class”) voters.
Voter turnout by Latinos is clearly a pivotal issue — especially for (recently, generally low turnout, ~40%%) primary elections — which serve as the constant, historical venue for Woodland City Council elections.
Assigning several local city council districts along lines of simply, reasonably concentrating Latino voters should assist to balance election results away from these lower voter turnouts.
Some areas within southwestern Woodland are particularly conservative. For example, it has long been common political practice to gerrymander southwestern Woodland into conservative (upper-valley) congressional districts.
Voting districts which attempt to reasonably concentrate Latino votes would likely be generally located in northern and east-central Woodland.
___ Class-Based Voting-Rights Reform And More ____
Perhaps of even greater significance, more fundamental problems of economic-class status find much needed mitigation within this reform.
Campaigning within only a fifth of a city is a whole lot easier and less expensive than attempting to pursue an overall, city-wide contest.
Woodland currently has about 20,000 households / dwelling units. It’s a whole lot easier and less expensive to campaign toward the relevantly closest 4,000, from where you live, than to try to canvass the entire city.
District-based elections establish relative economy and convenience for candidates, hopefully encouraging more political participation by Latinos and other persons of lower economic-class status.
Of course, such election reform usually distresses and perturbs the historically entrenched political system.
That’s why the city is suddenly clamming-up and circling its political wagons.
Another big election reform which is now lingering in the background: Woodland CIty Council elections at the General Election cycle in November — where voter turnout (recently) ususally doubles from about 40% to about 80%.
West Sacramento holds its City Council elections in November, a bright local lesson and clear democratic beacon for this particular reform.
Combining CVRA, “district-based” election reform with November elections for Woodland City Council is what should be seen as truly required to maximize local democracy.
Why not now combine these election reforms, for 2014?
Ask the all-White, carefully negotiating, primary-election inclined, Woodland City Council.