The lines have been drawn for district elections that will begin in 2020 and, for the first time, allow Solana Beach voters to choose a mayor who will serve for four years.
From six possible options, council members at a June 26 special meeting selected a map that divides the city into four districts, each with about 3,200 residents.
Three districts run east to west from the coast to about Interstate 5, although one includes a neighborhood northeast of the freeway. One district is entirely east of the freeway.
“In looking at this sorry exercise that we’ve had to go through, what’s always been most important to me is that we do not pit neighborhood against neighborhood and … that the community assets we do have are represented by as many council members as possible,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who described the selected map is the most reasonable.
Those assets, she added, include the beach, Cedros Design District, the Lomas Santa Fe corridor, Coast Highway 101 and the commercial areas around I-5.
Since its inception as a city, Solana Beach has used an at-large voting system, meaning everyone votes for all five council members — two in one election and three in the next two years later.
The mayor, based on the number of votes received in the previous election, is appointed by council members and rotated annually.
In February, Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman sent Solana Beach a letter threatening litigation if the city didn’t switch to district-based elections.
According to the letter, sent on behalf of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, “voting within Solana Beach is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution.”
As such, the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
Rather than fight what would likely be a costly, losing legal battle, council members agreed to make the change.
They began the process in May. Despite its short duration, there was no lack of community input.
Nearly 40 maps configurations were submitted, as were several emails. Each meeting included a number of speakers.
“I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had on district-based elections at this point but I’ve heard lots of different opinions,” Mayor Dave Zito said at the June 26 meeting, the fourth of five required public hearings.
Throughout the process, council members and many residents said they oppose the change.
“City Council members are elected based on qualifications, experience and common values and beliefs they share with voters,” Councilwoman Jewel Edson said. “The actual street where candidates live was never a qualifying factor.
“Districting changes that,” she added. “The primary qualification moves from having the skills, experience and qualifications necessary to serve on council to where you rest your head at night.”
Edson, who is part Latina, said the California Voting Rights Act was created for a noble cause but she, like her colleagues and many residents, say voting is not racially polarized in the county’s second smallest city.
Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer call it a “miserable experience.”
Council members will cast the final vote at a special meeting July 10. If the map is adopted, the new process will be implemented in phases.
Council members from districts 1 and 3, as well as the mayor, will be elected in 2020, when the terms of Edson, Hegenauer and Zito expire.
Representative from districts 2 and 4 will be elected in 2022. Because the census takes place in 2020 it’s possible the district lines will change.
Shenkman said it “unfortunate” the city opted to change the way it selects its mayor.
“I’m not saying we would take legal action, but it is something that would need to be considered, particularly when the city didn’t have an at-large elected mayor in the first place,” he added. “To try to hold on to one at-large seat is suspicious. You’re not going all the way.”