San Bruno Passes District Elections | Local News

San Bruno completed its move to district elections last week, with a council split vote finalizing the process amid calls to consider other possibilities and friction over an election cycle that removes the ability of vice- mayor to seek re-election.

The vote officially overturns the city’s current system in which the entire population votes for all four council members and instead grants residents a single vote for one council member who will also represent and live in one. of the four new districts.

“While this solution may not be the only solution, or perhaps even the best solution, it is a solution that could encourage better wider participation and could encourage people who might not have ran otherwise, to show up,” Council Member Michael Salazar said.

The council decided on the map last month and two weeks ago chose a staggered election sequence that effectively ousts Vice Mayor Linda Mason for at least two years. In light of this, and after a last-minute discussion of possible alternative electoral reform measures, Mason and council member Tom Hamilton voted against finalizing the move to district elections that has been underway since 2020.

The city, like hundreds of others across the state, chose to make the switch to avoid potential California Voting Rights Act litigation. The law requires that the votes of minority residents not be “diluted”, which can happen in general elections, according to the law. The shift to constituencies can increase fair representation by allowing voters with common interests to elect representatives of their choice.

The city formed its map over several months of community involvement and with the help of a hired demographer. Council members estimated the process cost nearly $100,000 – far less than the litigation if the city had been sued.

The crux of the complication regarding Mason’s ability to seek re-election is that she and Salazar live in the same district, but are not aligned in the city’s staggered election cycle. Salazar’s term ends in 2024 and Mason’s this year, but Mason won’t be able to seek re-election immediately because his district won’t be in place for another two years.

Potential alternate sequencing that would have avoided the problem would have instead created a problem for Salazar. If he and Mason were to run against each other and Salazar won, a vacancy would be created which would have to be filled by the board appointing a new member. Salazar could also have chosen not to run for re-election this year, sacrificing two years on the board but avoiding the possibility of a vacancy.

Mason, the only female council member, could choose to run for mayor, which takes place every two years. She did in 2020 but lost to incumbent Rico Medina.

“The decision made by my four male board members was not to allow one board member to run for their seat,” said Mason, who added that the irony of the “unintended but real impact” was that the decision was made on International Women’s Day.

But while Council member Marty Medina said he recognized “the irony of voting that day”, he backed the decision as the most reasonable choice given the circumstances.

“It was a very difficult decision for us, but I think it was necessary,” he said, adding that while the board could have gone for a card that didn’t pit incumbents against each other , that would have been “absolutely contrary to what the whole point of division is.

A broader reform

Adding to the complication, hours before the final vote, the council received a presentation on choice and approval voting, systems that provide alternatives to the city’s current elections that allow voters to choose only their preferred candidate. The board had previously expressed interest in exploring such options.

Both alternatives allow voters to rank their preferred candidate or choose multiple candidates, a method that can reduce split-vote scenarios resulting in the election of non-consensual candidates. Preferential voting is used in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, but is relatively rare in the rest of the country. Proponents say the system can boost candidate diversity by removing the fear that a lesser-known candidate could have a “spoiler effect.”

But, to adopt either system, voter approval would be needed to move the city from general law status to charter status, not allowing the change to be made in time for the November election. . Additionally, while ward maps could potentially be incorporated into either of the voting models discussed, they alone would likely not protect the city from CVRA litigation.

To allow time to better calculate the city’s trajectory, Hamilton said he would rather “pause” the city to move forward with district elections.

“We would potentially go from a voting system that we have today, which is majority voting, to district elections, and then potentially … we would change it again, and it would be three consecutive elections with three methods of voting different,” he said. . “That’s a lot of changes.”

The council has also expressed a desire to move the city from its four-person council with a separately elected mayor to a five-person council, with the mayor’s role rotating among members each year. San Bruno is the only city in the county to have a separately elected mayor.

But a hiccup in the map drawing process meant that only four-district arrangements were produced (a five-district map would be needed for the desired change). The decision would also require voter approval, and the council determined there was not enough time to implement the change before November.

City Attorney Marc Zafferano warned that keeping the general election for the upcoming race carried “an extremely high risk of the city being sued”, given that the city in 2020 passed a resolution to make the change. by this year.

“It’s hard to say whether it will succeed or not, but, of course, litigation has to succeed to be costly,” he said.

Santa Monica, a city that opted to litigate the issue in an effort to maintain its general election, has reportedly spent more than $8 million fighting an ongoing lawsuit.

Mayor Rico Medina said while he understood the desire “to wait and look at the big picture,” there were “a lot of assumptions” that weren’t warranted.

Mason said her concerns about the process were nothing new and she didn’t see enough evidence the city had an immediate threat of litigation. She said the move to rotational mayorship and alternative voting methods received council support in 2020, but the city lacked the resources to pursue the options.

“If we had the staff, if we had the support, we might have decided these in 2020 so we know where we are now in 2022,” she said. “The effort has been made for us to do this in order.”

The city will hold its first district elections in November. The election will decide representation for District 4, where Marty Medina lives, and the currently vacant District 1. District 2, where Hamilton lives and District 3 where Mason and Salazar live will be in place in 2024.

corey@smdailyjournal.com

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