Dicing Ceres into four population-equal districts for the purpose of electing individual councilmembers wasn't easy but a consultant has three versions from which to choose.
The maps were viewed for the first time on Monday and the public will get its shot on Thursday, April 2 and again on Saturday, April 11 at the Ceres Community Center. The maps have also been reproduced on page B8 of this issue.
The boundaries had to be carved in a way to place each existing councilmember in a separate district, create at least one district with a majority of Latino voters, follow major streets, and be close to equal size, about 11,535 residents.
The city is contemplating abandoning the current at-large district method of electing the four council members and going with districts to avoid an almost guaranteed lawsuit in the future. Other cities are being forced to do the same.
The council determined earlier this month to let the voters of Ceres decide to make the change. However, if voters reject a change, the city will have no choice but to acquiesce to the 2002 California Voting Rights Act or face a lawsuit and the potential loss of millions of dollars fighting the change.
"We don't want to jump from the California Voting Rights Act pot into the federal Voting Rights Act fire," said Douglas Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corporation of Glendale, was hired by the city to guide the city through the process of holding community meetings and designing the ballot measure.
Representatives of the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) approached the council in 2013 asking the city to move to district elections, citing how Modesto fought the change and spent $2 million in fees of taxpayers' money doing so. LCR said it is not interested in suing Ceres to make the change. However, a group called the Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights forced the Ceres Unified School District to go to district elections in 2009 after threats of being sued under the California Voting Rights Act. The nonprofit advocacy group had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Latino voters, charging that the district's at-large method of election was racially polarizing and violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
Minority groups like LCR feel that district elections would make it easier for minority candidates to be elected, stating that concentrations of minority voters could be outnumbered in at-large districts controlled by non-minority voters.
Johnson presented three district boundary scenarios that put Linda Ryno, Bret Durossette, Mike Kline and Ken Lane is separate districts.
At Monday's meeting, Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd sharply criticized district elections, saying councilmembers should serve for all the residents, not represent a minority class or specific area of Ceres. Shepherd said he could envision a scenario where no candidates show up in certain districts, or where districts where a candidate is uncontested and shooed-in with a few votes.
City Manager Toby Wells said the first district election would be in 2017 when two seats are open. The first full district election would take place in 2019.
The city would continue to elect its mayor on an at-large basis since there is only one mayor.