SOLANA BEACH — During the first of five required public hearings, residents were given their first opportunity to provide input on how the city should be divided when it changes from at-large to district-based elections.
At the May 14 information meeting at City Hall, they also received directions on how to go about creating district maps. A similar event was held the following night at La Colonia Community Center.
The change is in response to a letter from Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, who claims Solana Beach is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act because voting within the city “is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution.”
Some of the approximately 90 cities that received similar letters have tried unsuccessfully to fight the transition and spent millions of dollars doing so.
Rather than take that risk, Solana Beach City Council agreed in April to make the transition in 2020 but had only 90 days to start the process.
The tight timeline is set by the state.
No districts were created during the first two meetings, but attendees received maps of the city broken into sections by population.
Under the law, districts must be similar sized. In Solana Beach that means a five-district map would have about 2,573 residents and a four-district configuration would contain 3,378. In the latter, the mayor would be elected at large.
Districts should also be neighborhoods or geographic areas that have shared interests, problems or characteristics, such as school attendance areas or natural dividing lines such as roadways.
Solana Beach has had a few elections in recent years during which there were an equal number of candidates for vacant seats. Should a candidate not emerge from a district, existing council members could make an appointment or hold a special election.
The demographer plans to draw and distribute draft maps May 23 so residents should submit their district recommendations by May 21.
During the next hearing, which will be held at 6 p.m. May 30 at City Hall, the public can weigh in on the draft maps and recommend changes.
Council members will introduce an ordinance with the final district maps on June 26 and adopt it July 11. Deadlines from the county registrar of voters prohibited the city from using district-based elections this November.
Maps will be redrawn in 2021 based on data from the 2020 census.
Most who spoke at the May 14 hearing opposed the change. But since it seems inevitable, they said they would prefer to have four districts that divide the city east to west and an at-large elected mayor.
Manny Aguilar, president of La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, said doing so would split the Latino community, something Shenkman said defeats the purpose of the change.
For more on Solana Beach voting districts, read: https://www.thecoastnews.com/residents-council-members-decry-forced-districting/
For more information and a district map participation kit, available in English and Spanish, visit www.cityofsolanabeach.org and click on Public Meetings. The link also includes a recording of the May 14 meeting and the PowerPoint presentation from the demographer.