Rohnert Park reviewing draft maps in transition to district-based elections
The Rohnert Park City Council will for the first time weigh in on initial council seat boundaries as the city makes its planned transition to district-based elections starting in November 2020.
The Tuesday night council meeting represents the city’s third of five required public sessions on the topic as Rohnert Park looks to avoid a potential lawsuit over its current at-large - or citywide - voting for council seats by shifting to separate districts.
A Southern California attorney contacted Rohnert Park in October, alleging that the existing election system deprives Latino residents of proportionate representation and is therefore out of step with the state’s voting rights law.
Rohnert Park has a population of almost 44,000 residents - about 41,000 of whom were counted in the most recent U.S. Census in 2010.
Of that total, which is the number that will be used to draw maps until more updated data is available in 2020, about 9,000 residents, or 22% of the city, is Latino.
Attorney Kevin Shenkman stated in his letter that just one Latino, Armando Flores, has served on the City Council in Rohnert Park’s 57-year history. Flores won four terms on the council, between 1974 and 2006, and served as mayor five times during that period.
Council members and City Manager Darrin Jenkins, dismiss Shenkman’s claim that the at-large elections are to blame, but have opted to revise Rohnert Park’s voting system rather than risk losing millions of dollars mounting a legal defense that no other California city has won to date after fighting the change to district-based voting.
Instead, the city will pay Shenkman no more than $30,000, according to a state cap, and develop an amended, district-based voting system.
Three of the eight maps up for review Tuesday were submitted by members of the public, with the remainder produced by the city’s consultant.
Each district boundary must include roughly equal population totals, be undivided and may also consider other factors such as where current council members live to sidestep the possibility of head-to-head races between incumbents. Mayor Joe Callinan said in an interview this past month that districts should not be drawn around where current council members live.
“I’m a firm believer in doing what’s right,” said Callinan, who has already announced he’ll seek a fourth term on the council in 2020.
“I don’t think we should make maps to make us happy. It’s got to be fair, and not do anything that goes outside of the state rules.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.