Ken Lane and Linda Ryno accused each other Monday evening of promoting City Council district maps that place the other at a political disadvantage that could threaten their ability to be re-elected.
The word sparring occurred as the council studied two new maps that could end up being the plan presented to voters in November whether or not to elect council members by districts rather than the current at-large system.
Cities, school districts and special districts in California face the threat of lawsuits costing millions of dollars if they resist abandoning at-large selection processes in lieu of going to district elections. A reluctant Ceres City Council agreed to put the matter to voters this fall at the request of the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR).
Turlock voters passed a similar measure last November by a majority of 74 percent.
Dicing up Ceres becomes problematic because three incumbents - Lane, Ryno and Mike Kline - live relatively close to one another in the geographical heart of Ceres. Carving districts that place each one in their own district - and thereby avoid running against each other - is further complicated by a formula that calls for each district to be roughly the same size and fairly representative of their neighborhood. The federal law also 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.
Minority groups like LCR feel that district elections make it easier for minority candidates to be elected, stating that a concentration of "minority" voters could be outnumbered in at-large districts controlled by non-minority voters.
Ryno made it clear that she dislikes any plan that gerrymanders her central Ceres home into the west side of Ceres which also carries a majority of Latino voters. She commented that the two areas of Ceres are not the same neighborhood.
"I don't think that it's fair to my neighborhood," said Ryno. "Our neighborhood is not across the west side."
However, Lane is clearly opposed to Draft Plan #6 which puts him and Ryno in the same district and potentially running against one another should he seek re-election. Ryno supports Draft #6 and about a conflict in running against Lane said "we can't help that we live that close together."
Lane suggested that Ryno likes the plan for political advantage.
"I'm thinking by pitting you and I in an area that you're developing really (is about) taking me out. It seems very clear of the intent of this."
Ryno suggested that Lane's plan seemed like a plan against her.
In lobbying for Draft #3, Lane said the LCR liked it and invited Maggie Mejia of the LCR to weigh in on her preference. Mejia said she likes Draft #3, the one that places Ryno in the west side district dominated by a 54 percent Latino majority voter registration.
Mayor Chris Vierra stated that the fairest map would be that separates current councilmembers in their own districts.
Ryno continued her protest of any map that scooped up her home north of Ceres High School into a district that covers the west side.
"I say we need to forget about, worried that we're going to run against an incumbent and we need to look at is it fair that my neighborhood is being excluded from what they would consider to be their neighborhood? The rest of you all can look at your district and say, ‘yes, that is my community.' You can say that. The (plans) that you're looking at, that isn't my neighborhood's community. It isn't. And no disrespect to Maggie but she doesn't live in my neighborhood. She doesn't know where my neighborhood would consider their community. It's about community. I don't think it's about income. It's running against each other."
Councilman Mike Kline disliked Draft #3 as well, saying "I'm the furthest councilmember to the east and yet (my district) goes to the west side of the freeway." Kline said he was happy with drafts #2, 5 and 6.
Vice Mayor Bret Durossette said he liked Draft #3. It keeps him representing the northeastern part of Ceres and Eastgate.
Lane said he could support Draft #2, which also slides Ryno into the west side district. It also would give him his own district stretching all the way into northwest Ceres.
When Mayor Vierra polled the council all but Ryno were willing to go with Draft #2. All five agreed to advance drafts #2, #3 and #6 as the three top choices. The battle over which map to accept will be decided either at the April 27 or May 11 council meetings.
The lengthy disagreement prompted Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd to condemn the whole process.
"A good way to deal with this," said Shepherd, was to "put all the numbers of the districts in a hat and then reach out two, three, one or whatever you want and go with it. This has become, to me, a battle of division, dividing people into groups. You all took that oath to represent every citizen in Ceres, no matter of their race, their color, their religion, their sexual orientation or anything else. And to come up and say we're forced to gerrymander things around to fit for people of some race or something, that's wrong. That's not what this country was founded on. It was founded on representing the citizens and if the citizens are too dang lazy to get out and go out and vote, that's their problem."
If voters approve the measure, the first district City Council election in Ceres would be in 2017 when two council seats are open. The first full district election would take place in 2019.
The mayor would still be elected on the basis of an at-large system.
The boundaries would be changed after the U.S. Census is taken every decade, the next one in 2020.