San Marcos unveils draft electoral district maps

SAN MARCOS — San Marcos recently unveiled two proposals for electoral districts in advance of the first of three public hearings devoted to the overhaul of its current election system.

The city could become the second in North County to switch to district-based elections from the current system, where officials are elected in citywide elections.

The two draft maps can be seen on the city website at san-marcos.net/districting.

City officials are considering the move after a prominent attorney threatened the city with a lawsuit, claiming that the city’s at-large system “dilutes the ability of … Latinos… to elect the candidate of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of San Marcos’ council elections.”

Cities statewide who have faced similar lawsuits have paid $15 million to lawyers who have brought forth the suits, according to a city staff report.

According to the letter, San Marcos, which is 37 percent Latino, had not elected a minority council member in 22 years.

The city’s most recent election in 2014 was cancelled after no candidates emerged to challenge the incumbents.

At least one elected official is reluctant in his support of the move to district elections. Mayor Jim Desmond said the city’s move insulates them from lawsuits, but also creates the potential for divisiveness.

“The positives are in the minds of Sacramento legislators,” Desmond said. “The (law’s) intent is to insure underrepresented people are represented in local government.  The city of San Marcos treats everyone fairly.

“The major drawback for a city our size is division of neighborhoods and the possibility of divisive outcomes instead of decisions based on the greater good of the entire city,” Desmond said.

The two maps would create four voting district with at least one district where the majority of registered voters would be Latino.

In both maps, the Latino district would encircle the city’s Richmar neighborhood, where elected officials and affordable housing developers have poured millions of dollars into transforming the once-notorious community.

In draft map No. 1, the voting district No. 1 would include Richmar and stretch from Poinsettia Avenue to the west, Twin Oaks Valley Road to the east, the 78 Freeway to the South and Borden Road and Comet Circle to the north. The district would be 72 percent Hispanic and 42 percent of the registered voters as of Nov. 2014.

In draft map No. 2, District 1 would extend further east to Woodland Parkway and its southwestern boundary would shift. The district would still have about 70 percent Hispanics.

The fifth seat on the council, the mayoral post, would still be elected citywide.

The San Marcos City Council met Tuesday and host public hearings on Aug. 9 and Sept. 27, at which time they could introduce the ordinance that would change the elections.

These changes would not go into effect until 2018, when two seats on the council would be up for re-election.

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