CARLSBAD — For the first time in the city’s history, districts races will be part of the election fabric.
Last year, the City Council voted to create four districts for its city council members. The mayor’s race will remain at-large, meaning every resident of the city can vote for the position.
The city opted to institute districts in the wake of dozens of California cities being sued, and losing, under the California Voting Rights Act. Many other North County cities already adopted such districts including Escondido, Vista, San Marcos and Oceanside, to name a few.
The lawsuits were brought to protect the rights of Latino and other minority voters. Latinos make up 13 percent of Carlsbad’s population, according to the city’s website.
“We were trying to do what was best for the city,” said Brian Flock, one of the map’s authors. “We did one with quadrants … and what I call the horizontal unifying map.”
The other Carlsbad resident, Arnie Cohen, banded with Flock to create the map adopted by the city using data from the 2010 Census. Flock and Cohen are both active in local politics and were on opposite sides of the controversial Measure A.
However, Flock reached out to Cohen after hearing Cohen speak about how working together on the districts could be unifying for the city and for others on opposite sides of Measure A.
Both said they didn’t see the need for districting, but instead of fighting the concept they went with it. Cohen and Flock said their position was residents are not able to vote for all five candidates every two years.
“Like a lot of the community, we felt we were forced to do something we didn’t like,” Cohen said. “One cycle you’re going to get to vote for mayor and the next cycle you’re going to get to vote for one council person. As opposed to previously, you would’ve voted for three in one cycle, and two in the next cycle.”
“I felt it was thrust upon us,” Flock added. “This lawyer was forcing us to do something that didn’t even really seem to fit. So, I immediately jumped on this and so did he (Cohen).”
Their initial maps were nearly identical, Flock said, although they were drawn with five districts. However, the two realized four districts would be best, while Cohen pitched a horizontal map, which flew in the face of the traditional quadrant concept used by the city for decades for issues such as housing density and other matters.
Cohen said one direction from the council was to avoid lumping current councilmembers in the same district. However, with population constraints, meaning each district must be within 10 percent or less of each other, the task became impossible.
For example, District 1 is home to Mayor Matt Hall and councilmembers Mark Packard and Cori Schumacher. Keith Blackburn represents District 2 and Michael Schumacher (no relation to Cori Schumacher) represents District 3.
Flock and Cohen said they realized it would best to not consider who lived where and just take on the numbers game.
“I thought if we go four districts, there’s no way to avoid it no matter how I cut it,” Flock said about pairing incumbents in the same district. “I said that rule is ridiculous and it doesn’t fit. It was really difficult because we were constrained by the fact they had to balance in population numbers.”
Cohen’s horizontal idea, meanwhile, was pitched to Flock as a way for each district to have similar issues concerning every resident. Each district gets a slice of the coastline, Coast Highway, Interstate 5, El Camino Real and neighboring cities.
The goal, Cohen said, was to create unification among each district with some of the same issues. Some residents wanted the coastline to encompass one district, but Flock and Cohen said this way each district has skin in the game.
Perhaps more importantly, Cohen added, is each segment of the coastline has nuanced and different issues. For example, North Beach along Ocean Street has different concerns and priorities than residents living near Ponto Beach.
“We had to go on what made sense,” Cohen said. “Then it became a numbers game. Where we ended up with the map was based on numbers and trying to get to the best possible place we could. We were trying … to give as many important city issues to each district, and that’s how it came out.”
As for the elections, they will remain staggered with District 1 and 3 up this year. However, since Cori Schumacher is running for mayor, if she loses she will retain her City Council seat as she was previously elected as an at-large candidate in 2016.
If she wins, Schumacher would be mayor, while the winner between Packard and challenger Mary Anne Vinney would represent District 1. In District 3, Michael Schumacher is being challenged by Priya Bhat-Patel.
The maps, meanwhile, must be reviewed every 10 years based on the latest Census data. As such, the review will take place in 2021 and new district lines could be drawn for the 2022 election, according to the city’s website.