In a 3-2 vote, the City Council on Monday evening settled on a map creating boundaries for four separate council districts after Councilmember Linda Ryno protested that her home is lumped into an area of Ceres that is not her "community."
The map - Draft #3 - will go before the Ceres voters in November as the city seeks to abandon the current at-large system of electing councilmembers in lieu of electing them by district. If Ceres voters reject the proposed change, however, 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 council districts.
Many cities and school districts in California are being forced to make the change against the threat of lawsuits lodged by minority groups. Riverbank is also going through the process and last November Turlock voters approved district council elections. 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.
The majority of the council was opposed to Draft #6, which was Ryno's preference. While it would have placed Ryno and Ken Lane in the same district, the map also would have created a district for Ryno that is contained to central Ceres.
Draft #3 approved by the council gerrymanders Ryno into a district that extends from the area of Ceres High School all the way to Ceres' western boundary. Her District #2 is also the only district that has a majority of Latino voters. Ryno's district is calculated to have 54 percent Latino voter registration and 52 percent Latino voter turnout in the 2012 election.
"Both #2 and #3 cut my neighborhood off from their community," said Ryno. "That is why I suggested #6."
Lane countered that Ceres is small enough that he considers the entire city his community.
He has not said if he will seek re-election but if he does will campaign in District 1 which primarily is the northwest section of Ceres west of Moffet Road.
"I'm still not sure I'm going to run again," said Lane, "but I can say this: that I would like the opportunity to run again without any battle ... against each other."
Bret Durossette's District 3 covers northeast Ceres, including areas east of Moffet Road as well as Eastgate.
Mike Kline will be in District 4 which covers a block around Smyrna Park southward to Highway 99 and leaping across the freeway to take some areas of southwest Ceres, including Marazzi Lane, Sungate Drive and Daisy Tree.
The office of mayor would still be elected on the basis of an at-large system.
Draft #3 was supported by both the Latino Community Roundtable and the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP).
When the council voted, Mayor Chris Vierra, Vice Mayor Durossette and Councilman Ken Lane voted for the Draft #3 map. Ryno and Kline opposed.
The federal Voting Rights Act demands that neighborhoods that are heavily populated by a protected class - Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans or Asian-Americans - cannot be divided in a way that would reduce their ability to elect their preferred candidates.
The process of creating the districts has been guided by Douglas Johnson of National Demographics Corporation of Glendale. The maps have been presented to the public at two public workshops that drew little input.
On Monday, Don Donaldson told the council how he felt about creating council districts by tearing up copies of the maps and protesting: "This is America. We don't have to have boundaries and borders for people to go to elections. Stand up, you don't have to do this. Fight for what you think is right. This is not right. I disapprove of it. I put my life on the line for the Constitution of the United States of America. All people are created equal."
Leonard Shepherd sounded a similar tone, saying "Once you take that oath to serve the community, not a small portion, not a certain bunch of people or anything, you take that oath to serve everyone. But we have by proclamation of law, federal and state, we have to do this."
If voters approve the measure, the first district City Council election in Ceres will be in 2017 when two council seats are up for grabs. The first full district election would take place in 2019.
The boundaries would be changed after the U.S. Census is taken every decade, the next one in 2020.
Representing the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR), Maggie approached the council in 2013 asking the city to move to district elections, citing how Modesto fought the change and lost. LCR, she said, has never been intending to sue Ceres to make the change.
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).