The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board voted Wednesday to approve a resolution to hold by-district elections starting in 2020.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said CSD Director Rod Brewer Thursday. “Our mission is very clear – it’s very basic in what we do – to being responsive to the public. This would deepen our charge to serve the people of Elk Grove and Galt for years to come.”
The resolution, which was passed by a vote of 4 – 1, with CSD Director Jim Luttrell dissenting, would change how CSD board members will be elected in 2020. More than a dozen people spoke during public comment on the issue.
Currently, all candidates run at-large, which means they are not restricted to living within a particular area within the service area. All residents in CSD get to decide who will sit on the board.
Under the proposed switch, smaller divisions or districts will be created by a demographer, using data from the 2010 census. Board candidates will have to live within a district. Only residents within that district will vote on who they want to represent them on the CSD board.
“It would be more democratic and less expensive for the candidate and the district,” said CSD Director Jaclyn Moreno Thursday. “It would increase voter turnout and it encourages more accountability from elected leaders.”
She noted that the move would put CSD in compliance with the California Voter Rights Act, which allows minority groups to challenge government entities for diluting their vote in at-large elections.
“Their voices are drowned out if they are voting at-large,” said Moreno, adding that a number of cities have been sued recently for violating the law.
“Santa Monica lost the case,” she said. “The judgment came last Friday. The judge required the city to move to by-district for the next election, and asked for a special election for all seven seats.”
History of By-District Elections for CSD
The issue of by-district elections for CSD is not new.
In 2008, when Elk Grove CSD merged with the Galt Fire Protection District, Measure S was placed on the ballot. It asked voters whether CSD board members should by chosen by-district instead of at-large.
According to the staff report submitted to the CSD board Wednesday night, 53.55 % of the residents in CSD at the time voted against Measure S.
Then, the only way to switch from an at-large election to a by-district election was to have residents vote on a ballot measure.
But as of January 1, 2017, the law was changed. Government entities can adopt a resolution to convert at-large elections to by-district elections without voter approval.
Brewer, who has been researching this issue for five years, said he had been talking to different community members about having the Elk Grove Unified School District, CSD and the city of Elk Grove switch to by-district elections.
On April 11, 2018, the Elk Grove City Council rejected calls for by-district elections. Mayor Steve Ly was the only one who wanted to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, but did not call for a vote on the proposal since the other council members did not support it.
But recent lawsuits filed against cities for violating the California Voters Rights Act prompted Brewer to act.
“I called for CSD to have a discussion about by-district elections in 2018,” he said. “Our charge was to give the staff follow-up directions but we gave no directions. So after the election, we were re-addressing the issue.”
The CSD board had a discussion with the public on the issue at the board’s Dec. 19, 2018 meeting.
“It was the first initiative that I enacted after being sworn in – to have it added to the agenda,” Moreno said. ” I’m excited to work with my other colleagues to break down barriers and work on equity.”
Why The Board Chose To Act
Rather Than Letting Voters Decide
Wednesday, the CSD staff presented the board with eight options to make the election switch.
Two people argued during public comment Wednesday night that the issue be put to a public vote.
Moreno disagreed with that suggestion, saying that the board was empowered to make the decision.
“The two candidates (Brewer and Moreno) who won in 2018 were the candidates who campaigned for by-district elections,” she said. “This suggests that we have a mandate and the voters have spoken. It’s why I’m comfortable in making that decision by the board.”
Moreno noted that the majority of the other speakers were in favor of switching to by-district elections in 2020 rather than in 2022.
“2020 would provide justice and opportunity sooner,” she said.
Brewer said he wanted the CSD board to be proactive by passing the resolution instead of putting a measure on the ballot.
“We didn’t want to leave too much to chance, with the result being in violation of the California Voters Rights Act,” he said. “I didn’t want to subject the district to lawsuits and spend thousands of dollars. It’s not a winning prospect to be on the losing side of the battle.”
Financial Impacts of Switching
To By-district Elections
Luttrell, the only CSD Director to vote against the resolution Wednesday said he supported by-district elections but questioned the timing.
“We had two choices – one was to do it by 2020, and the other to do it by 2022, after the next census,” he said Thursday.
“I am pro doing it after the census. It saves us money. Now, we have to hire a demographer to do the districting by the 2010 census and do it again for the 2020 census. We have to hire the demographer and do everything twice in four years.”
In a report submitted Wednesday night, staff estimated that it would cost CSD $24,750 to $50,000 to hire a demographer to do the work.
Moreno argued that the money that CSD would save by switching to by-district elections would offset the cost of hiring the demographer twice.
According to the staff report, an at-large election held in 2020 would cost $97,530, but a by-district election for three seats would result in $63,336 in expenses.
“We’re saving money on county costs,” said Moreno.
“I feel fiscal responsibility is very important in this district. I looked at the numbers very carefully and the fiscal responsibility that would come with this decision. I’m weighing equality and justice versus the money that may be spent.”
CSD Board Member Reservations About
Switching To By-District Elections
Luttrell’s seat is up for election in 2020. But he said that didn’t factor into his vote on the resolution.
“I’m not upset about the way the vote went at all,” he said.” To do it by district – it makes a lot of people happy and I’m willing to go with that. I applaud them but I think we could have delayed by couple of years.”
Luttrell said he would have preferred to keep the status quo.
“I lean toward what (Gil) Albiani said – to do it by district, but voted by everybody,” he said. ” But that would not be legal according to the Voters Act.”
CSD Board President Gil Albiani confirmed that he voiced his support for at-large elections Wednesday night but wouldn’t elaborate on why he decided to vote in favor of the board resolution.
“I don’t think it matters,” he said Thursday. “What’s done is done.”
Community members applauded the CSD board decision Wednesday night.
“We are thankful that the CSD has complied with state law and avoided costly litigation,” said Amar Shergill with the American Sikh Public Affairs Association.
“By-district voting saves tax payer money and gives all communities a fair opportunity to have their voices heard in elections. Let’s hope that Elk Grove City Council and the School Board follow this example, stop violating the California Voting Rights Act, and put fair elections ahead of their political self-interest.”
The CSD has to hold at least two public hearings on what residents want to see in the new districts before the demographer maps them out. Then the public gets to weigh in on the proposed districts at two more hearings before the CSD board signs off on the final configurations.
“We want to make sure that communities can speak on what those (districts) will look like,” said Moreno. “We haven’t outlined what the next steps are in detail. But there’s a lot of work to do between now and the 2020 election.”
Brewer said he expects the staff will report back to the board in two or three months, updating members on the implementation of the resolution.
“I feel proud of the work that everyone has put into the effort,” he said Thursday. “We’re moving in the right direction for the city of Elk Grove. People want strong representatives to continue the process of looking out for the interests of the city.”
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