Council wants horizontal districts

ENCINITAS — If Encinitas is to elect its future council members by districts, the current City Council wants the districts drawn horizontally so they each touch the coast and the inland areas and preserve as much of the city’s five communities as possible.

This was the consensus of the council at the Sept. 6 council meeting, the first in a series of five public hearings that will yield a map outlining the city’s new voting districts.

Encinitas is in the process of crafting districts in the wake of a lawsuit threat by Malibu law firm Shenkman & Hughes, which said that the city’s current at-large voting system dilutes the power of the city’s Hispanic voters.

The city has three months to hold hearings and workshops, after which time it will decide whether to adopt the new district maps and switch to district elections, or defend itself in a lawsuit filed by Shenkman & Hughes.

At the first meeting, which was sparsely attended, a consultant outlined the basic guidelines for crafting the districts — including the required population for four districts and five districts. The council members then discussed their wishes for the maps.

By having horizontal districts, the council said, each of the council members would have key elements of the community in their district, such as the beach, the railroad tracks, the freeway and El Camino Real.

“You want investment in the big projects and the big areas that need attention,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. “You want to have multiple people invested in them.”

If the council were to choose to create four voting districts with a mayor selected in a citywide election, the districts would each have roughly 14,880 people, based off of the most recent census data in 2010. The districts in a five-district map would have just under 12,000 people, with an acceptable deviation of less than 10 percent for each of the districts, according to the staff report.

This means that at least two of the city’s historical community boundaries would not be acceptable for districts because two of the communities — Olivenhain and Cardiff-by-the-Sea — are too small, and would have to include portions of New Encinitas and Old Encinitas, respectively.

“It’s naive to think we are going to keep the five communities intact,” Councilman Mark Muir said. “It’s about having the least impact on them to keep them somewhat the same.”

Blakespear and other council members said they didn’t think that the districts would change what defines the city’s five communities, citing examples in Del Mar and with the Encinitas Union School District, which have split electoral boundaries.

“People say ‘I live in Carlsbad but I am in the Encinitas Union School District and they are crossing that boundary and it is not affecting what city they identify with or really anything,” Blakespear said. “I think it is quite possible for us to maintain our community identification without having your representative have to be that person.”

Three people spoke during the public hearing, which was supposed to get public feedback on how residents want the districts to look. All three, however, urged the council to fight the lawsuit in court, arguing that districts would divide the community.

“We’ll tend to focus on our voting districts and lose our history,” said John Doyle, a planning commissioner who spoke representing himself. “What happens to the old definitions of the old community? What meaning do they have after that? People will have allegiance to their little corner of the community.”

The city heard a report from attorney Chris Skinnell, who outlined many of the do’s and dont’s of map drawing as well as the things the city can take into consideration when crafting the maps, such as traditional community boundaries and avoiding placing two currently elected officials in the same district.

The council also voted to approve a communications contract with the firm JPW Communications and its proposal to help increase public outreach and attendance at the upcoming hearings.

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