San Marcos opts for district elections

SAN MARCOS — The city of San Marcos will become the second North County city to elect its council members by electoral districts rather than in citywide elections.

The San Marcos City Council voted last week to change its election system after receiving a litigation threat last year that alleged the city’s at-large voting system discriminated against Latino voters.

The changes will take effect for the 2018 election, when three of the council seats are up for election.

The council’s unanimous vote was made reluctantly, as several of the council members said they were concerned that the change could prove to politically divide the community.

San Marcos received a litigation threat in December 2015 from a Malibu-based law firm that said 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.”

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. This year, two challengers emerged against the two incumbents, Rebecca Jones and Sharon Jenkins.

The new voting districts include one that has 70 percent Latino population, largely centered around the Richmar community in central San Marcos.

The other three districts have much smaller Latino populations.

San Marcos officials also approved their preferred district map, which splits the city into four voting districts. The fifth seat on the council, the mayor, will still be voted at large.

The boundaries of the four districts are roughly as follows:

• District 1, which includes Richmar, stretches west to Poinsettia Avenue, east to Woodland Parkway, north to Borden Road and South to the 78 Freeway.

• District 2 includes the neighborhoods of San Elijo Hills and Discovery Hills and extends west to White Sands Drive, east to Questhaven Hills, south to the southern tip of San Elijo Hills and north to San Marcos Creek.

• District 3 includes much of the Creekside District, Cal State San Marcos and the Heart of the City District and extends east to the Nordahl Marketplace, west to Rancho Santa Fe Road, south to the southern tip of the university’s sphere of influence and north to the 78 freeway.

• District 4 includes Palomar College and Santa Fe Hills and is generally the rest of the city north of Borden Road and Santa Fe Road to the west.

Each district represents roughly 8,000 voters.

Districts 1 and 2 will be decided in 2018; districts 3 and 4 will follow in 2020.

Two current council members — Kristal Jabara and Chris Orlando — live in District 2, but Orlando, who is serving his third term, cannot run for re-election in 2018. If Jones wins, she will also not be up for re-election in 2020, when District 3 — where she and Jenkins both live — will be decided.

If no one enters a race to represent a district, the council can appoint someone, as long as the person resides within the district.

Escondido, the other North County city to switch to districts, unanimously approved the change in 2013 under similar circumstances as San Marcos.

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