Completion of the 2020 Census means political boundaries will be changing everywhere – including the four Ceres City Council districts created six years ago.
District boundary lines are not expected to change much given that Ceres’ population increased by only 3,621 residents between the 2010 and 2020 Census, from 45,417 to 49,038. But some residences could be shifted from one council district to another.
Currently the four council districts are: District 1 represented Jim Casey; District 2 represented by Linda Ryno; District 3 represented by Bret Silveira; and District 4 represented by Couper Condit. The new boundary lines cannot be drawn in such a way to exclude the residence of the affected councilmember.
The mayor is at-large since he represents the entire city.
Last week the Ceres City Council approved a schedule of public meetings required to allow the public to weigh in on the redistricting, which must be done in accordance with strict state and federal guidelines. In July the Ceres City Council hired National Demographics Corporation of Glendale to determine where the new district boundary lines will be drawn. The contract is expected to cost the taxpayers $26,500.
National Demographics Corporation is well-versed in helping local governments draw district lines and redraw them after population updates, and has a reputation as the leading demographic expert on the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The firm has also helped the cities of Modesto, Anaheim, Compton, Escondido, Santa Clarita and Whittier in lawsuits related to district boundaries.
Under the Fair Maps Act, by April 17, 2022, the city must redistrict council district boundaries so that each of the four districts is substantially equal in population size. Districts must be drawn to comply with the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the federal and state Voting Rights acts.
A minimum of four public hearings are required by state law. One meeting must be held before the drawing of a draft map while two must be held once the draft has been developed. One of those meetings must be scheduled on a weekend or after 6 p.m. weekdays to accommodate most people who work during the weekday.
City Attorney Nubia Goldstein outlined that the first of the proposed meetings will occur at the Monday, Oct. 25 City Council meeting starting at 6 p.m. The second public hearing will occur during the Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 City Council meeting. One workshop will be held sometime on Saturday, Feb. 5. The final adoption of the map and a public hearing would take place at the Monday, March 14, 2022 council meeting.
The meetings are not expected to interest many residents. When the city created council districts in 2015, there was little public interest at the public hearings. Leading those meetings was Doug Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corporation, who explained why Ceres and other cities and school districts in California were forced to abandon at-large methods of selecting council members: A poorly-written Voting Rights Act that sets up cities for multi-million dollar lawsuits if they didn’t switch over to district elections regardless if there is no evidence of voting polarity.
Ceres voters approved the concept of district elections on Nov. 3, 2015. Had voters rejected the change, the City Council still would have had to acquiesce to the 2002 California Voting Rights Act or face a legal challenge from minority advocate groups and the potential loss of millions of dollars fighting the change.
Minority groups like the Latino Community Roundtable say that district elections make it easier for minority candidates to be elected to office, stating that concentrations of minority voters could be outnumbered in at-large districts controlled by non-minority voters. It also lowers the cost as less campaign materials need to be produced to reach smaller areas.
The first district election for the Ceres City Council was in 2018when two council seats were open. The first full district election took place in 2020.
Modesto was forced to go to district elections years ago after waging a legal fight that cost taxpayers an estimated $2 million in attorney’s fees.