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Dana Point District Elections

By all indications, Dana Point district elections will be forced on Dana Pointers in May of this year, just a short time before the 2018 elections. This will be the biggest change in the political process in Dana Point since the city was incorporated in 1989.

There are pivotal questions that have yet to be discussed publicly, especially regarding the transition from at-large to by-district elections.

Why is Dana Point Changing to District Elections (or By-District Elections)?

A letter from attorney Russel Myrick alleging that Dana Point elections suffer from racial polarization, has prompted the city of Dana Point to move immediately to by-district elections before 21-May 2018. The Dana Point city attorney, Patrick Muñoz, has pushed the move within this short time-frame in order to qualify the city for protection against future law suits, a legal status called “safe harbor,” related to the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA).

Over 80% of Dana Point residents have expressed opposition to the move based on survey results compiled by this publication (click here to see results), and based on the overwhelming number of residents who spoke at the 3-April-2018 city council meeting. View the video below.

Question 1: Please indicate your preference (for election type):

Dana Point Election Survey 2018 Chart of results question 01


How Will Dana Point District Elections Be Implemented?

Public outreach and engagement about the issue of by-district elections has been minor compared to previous issues of similar degrees of importance to Dana Pointers (e.g. the Town Center, the Harbor Revitalization, or the Doheny Village projects), and while this rushed effort is an on-going cause of significant public skepticism, the city attorney insists that this fast pace of transition is required in order to meet the legal requirements of safe harbor.

Several pragmatic questions stand out as the city advances toward implementing Dana Point district elections in May 2018. For example, to meet the safe harbor legal standard, before 21-May 2018 the Dana Point city government will be required to ratify not only all district lines (a complex process vulnerable to accusations of gerrymandering), but also how many districts to choose (four or five), as well as the exact process of transitioning to by-district elections from the current at-large system.

Here are a few questions and answers cobbled together by DanaPointer.com:

  • Can council members who are not scheduled currently, in 2018, for re-election be forced to stand for re-election in 2018?
    Answer: No. Under CVRA and other related code sections, an incumbent’s term cannot be cut short because of a shift to by-district elections.
  • Is it possible to decide the question of whether to transition to by-district elections by a city-wide vote in November 2018 instead of by a city council resolution in May 2018?
    Answer: The city council could place the decision before Dana Point voters. However, that means the city would forego the safe harbor since that option runs out in May 2018. The legal risks of moving beyond the safe harbor period would need to be quantified in an official legal opinion by the city attorney in order for the council to make a balanced decision. Legally speaking, the CVRA does not establish any changes to existing code(s), i.e. there are no new restrictions or rights granted under CVRA.
  • 5 DISTRICTS: If districting is forced on Dana Point, and if five districts are designated, and only three council seats are up for re-election in 2018, which three districts will be selected for voting and how will they be chosen?
    Answer: The city council is poised to make three decisions:

    • Decision 1 — How many Districts?
      4 districts plus one at-large mayor (4+1) or five (5) districts with an appointed Mayor.
    • Decision 2 — What are the District map boundaries?
      The city attorney’s office has hired a demographics company to propose districts in Dana Point that adhere to the CVRA rules. Those districts are currently open to public input via city council meetings and one remaining community workshop scheduled for Wednesday, April 25th at 6:30PM at RH Dana Elementary School, 24242 La Cresta Dr., Dana Point, CA 92629.
    • Decision 3 — Which districts will be participating in the November 2018 election?
      • With the 5-district approach, two districts will not be allowed to vote for city council seats in the November-2018 election. Which two districts are selected not to vote in 2018 remains unclear.
      • Under the 4+1 scenario, since three seats are up for re-election, only two by-district candidates can be elected. Which two districts are selected not to vote in 2018 remains unclear.
        Again, two of four districts will not be allowed to vote for city council seats in the November-2018 election, but in this case, all four districts will vote for Mayor.
      • Under either scenario, the two districts that sit out the 2018 election will vote for their council representative in 2020.
      • There is no scenario under which all five current council members will be elected in 2018.
      • Regarding Decision 3 (which districts vote in 2018), the process must be established by majority vote of the city council. There are other possibilities ranging from random selection to choosing districts in which current council members with expiring terms reside. However, during this “sequencing” or “transition” discussion, the city council should give special consideration to California Elections Code Section 1001 O(b), which provides that:

“In determining the final sequence of the district elections conducted in a political subdivision in which members of the governing body will be elected at different times to provide for staggered terms of office, the governing body shall give special consideration to the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, and it shall take into account the preferences expressed by members of the districts.” [emphasis added]

While this sentence is somewhat complicated, it means: any district(s) with a significant number of members of a “protected class” the CVRA was designed to protect, should have the opportunity to take part in the 2018 election over waiting until 2020.

  • If the 4+1 (four districts plus an at-large Mayor) option is approved, how will the Dana Point district election in 2018 be divided?
    Answer: Under the 4+1 scenario, since three seats are up for re-election, only two by-district candidates can be elected. Again, two of four districts will not be allowed to vote for city council seats in the November-2018 election, but all four districts will vote for Mayor.
    For example, if the 4+1 option is approved, of the three current city council members up for re-election (Joe Mulller, John Tomlinson, Richard Viczorek), and if all three live in different districts, only two will allowed to run. The third could, of course, choose to run for Mayor.
  • Can a candidate lose the Mayoral bid but still win a district seat?
    Answer: Anyone who chooses to to run for the at-large Mayor seat cannot simultaneously run for their residential district. Any candidate must choose to: a) run for a district seat, b) run for Mayor or, c) not run. No candidate can stand for the Mayoral seat and lose, but still win a district seat.

Confused yet?

While the drawing of districts is clearly important, the city council will also be asked to make other decisions over the next four weeks that may have a huge impact on this year’s election.

These are but a few of the many questions pending regarding any transition to Dana Point district elections. Please add your questions and thoughts to the comment thread below.

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About the Author

Ross Teasley

A long-time Dana Pointer, technologist and publisher, I have been involved in several initiatives around Dana Point over the years ranging from environmental issues to civic planning. Fueled by coffee.

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