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If formally approved as expected by a second vote Tuesday of its City Council, the Santa Rosa’s transition to district elections will go forward, with what could be broad and lasting implications for the city’s future political landscape.

Under the new rules, seven months from now, Santa Rosa will stage an election like no other in its history.

Instead of all participating voters in the city choosing how to fill three seats on the seven-member City Council, as would typically occur, residents in three newly created districts will be able to vote only in the contest for the seat to represent their area of Santa Rosa. In 2020, the same process will cover council seats for the remaining four districts.

Advocates of the switch say it is likely to result in a more diverse set of elected leaders for Santa Rosa, which has long been governed by council members living in predominantly white and wealthier neighborhoods on the east side of Highway 101.

The sweeping change — one voters rejected in 2012 — came about under threat of a lawsuit, with proponents claiming Latino voters were being disenfranchised under the city-wide election system because their preferred candidates weren’t getting elected to the City Council. Latinos make up 30 percent of the population, but Santa Rosa has elected only one Latino to City Hall, current Councilman Ernesto Olivares.

Still, under the proposal up for approval Tuesday, the most heavily Latino areas of the city would have to wait until 2020 to have their say on who fills those council seats.

In the meantime, the three seats in contention this fall could attract a trio of familiar faces — Mayor Chris Coursey and councilmen John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm.

All three are expected to seek re-election and will be able to do so in the districts where they live after a disputed decision last week by the council majority that ensured no incumbents were ousted from their seats by the electoral system overhaul.

Coursey lives in the city’s new north-central district, Sawyer is in the southeastern district and Schwedhelm is in the district that takes in the city’s northwestern corner.

Whoever prevails in those contests — and incumbents hold a historic advantage in Santa Rosa — will serve alongside the existing four council members who were the top vote-getters citywide in 2014 and have two years left on their four-year terms. They are Julie Combs, Chris Rogers, Jack Tibbetts and Olivares, who is running this year for Sonoma County sheriff.

So for the next two years, the council will be made up of three council members elected from the new districts and four elected from the city as a whole.

The 2020 election will complete the cycle for districts making up the east, central, southwest and south-central areas of the city.

At that point, the council will be made up of seven people who individually represent separate areas of the city but who collectively represent the entire city, much like the county Board of Supervisors.

Those in favor of district elections say they make it easier for people to run for public office and make public officials more accountable to the public. Critics say they create fiefdoms and risk encouraging provincial thinking by politicians instead of keeping the best interests of the city in mind in their decisions.

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While supporters hope district elections will increase the ethnic diversity on the council by making it easier for Latinos to get their preferred candidates elected, that outcome is far from clear.

Councilman Rogers noted last week the only thing it is sure to do is create geographic diversity. And Sawyer has said he doubts the change will prompt much additional interest in serving on the council, a job that pays $9,600 per year plus health benefits and requires a significant time commitment.

Electing a more ethnically diverse City Council may come down to the demographic makeup of each district, which varies significantly across the city.

What are the actual chances of a Latino candidate being elected from the proposed 3rd District, including Oakmont, much of Rincon Valley and the outskirts of Trione-Annadel State Park, when an estimated 6 percent of the those registered in the area who voted in 2016 were, based on their surnames, Latino?

The chances seem far higher in the 1st District, which includes the newly annexed Roseland area.

More than a third of those casting ballots in 2016 were Latino based on their surnames.

What follows is only a fraction of the data gathered by the city to help guide the drawing of the districts in recent months.

It holds the key to understanding how the balance of power at City Hall might change in coming years, and whether the promise of a more inclusive local electoral system will come to pass.

1st District

Geography: South-central area, including most of Roseland, and straddling Highway 101. Bounded by Highway 12 to the north and Stony Point Road to the west, the city line to the south, and Petaluma Hill Road and Hendley Street in the South Park neighborhood to the west.

Total population: 24,045

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 35 percent

Share of voter in 2016 who were white: 57 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 56 percent

Incumbents residing in district: None

Seat up in: 2020

2nd District

Geography: Southeast area, including south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Montgomery Village and Bennett Valley. Bounded by Fourth Street and Highway 12 to the north, Summerfield Road to the east, E Street, Brookwood Avenue, Hendley Street, and Petaluma Hill Road to the west, and city limits to the south.

Total population: 26,023

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 10 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 85 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 45 percent

Incumbents residing in district: John Sawyer, Julie Combs, Ernesto Olivares

Seat up in: 2018

3rd District

Geography: Eastern area, including Oakmont and Rincon Valley. Bounded by Summerfield Road and Brush Creek to the west and city limits and Annadel State Park boundary.

Total population: 25,731

Share of voter in 2016 who were Latino: 6 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 89 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 33 percent

Incumbents residing in district: Jack Tibbetts

Seat up in: 2020

4th District

Geography: North-central area, including all of Fountaingrove and Skyfarm, Montecito Heights, and most of Junior College and Cherry Street neighborhood. Bounded by city limits to the north, Highway 101 and Mendocino Avenue to the west, Fourth Street and Highway 12 to south and Brush Creek to the east.

Total population: 24,709

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 7 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 85 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 41 percent

Incumbents residing in district: Chris Coursey

Seat up in: 2018

5th District

Geography: Central area, straddling Highway 101, including largest chunk of downtown. Bounded by West Steele Lane to the north, Stony Point Road to the west, Highway 12 to the south, and Brookwood Avenue, Sonoma Avenue, E Street, and Mendocino Avenue to the east.

Total population: 24,516

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 21 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 71 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 64 percent

Incumbents residing in district: Chris Rogers

Seat up in: 2020

6th District

Geography: Northwest area, including Coffey Park. Bounded by city limits to the north and west, Guerneville Road and West Steele Lane to the south, and Highway 101 to the east.

Total population: 25,117

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 16 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 77 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 49 percent

Incumbents residing in district: Tom Schwedhelm

Seat up in: 2018

7th District

Geography: Southwest and west area, including parts of Roseland and the Courtside Village and Bellevue Ranch areas. Bounded by Guerneville Road to the north, city limits to the west and south, and Burgess Drive, Silver Spur Drive, and Stony Point Road to the east.

Total population: 24,669

Share of voters in 2016 who were Latino: 21 percent

Share of voters in 2016 who were white: 72 percent

Share of residents who are renters: 41 percent

Incumbents residing in district: None

Seat up in: 2020

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