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Mission Viejo Districting

The City of Mission Viejo (the "City") received a certified letter on September 29, 2017 from Kevin Shenkman, an attorney with the Malibu-based law firm of Shenkman & Hughes. The letter asserts that the City's at-large electoral system dilutes the ability of Latinos (a protected class) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of the City's council elections. As a result, the letter asserts that the City's at-large electoral system violates the California Voting Rights Act ("CVRA"). Mr. Shenkman claims "polarized voting" is occurring and threatens litigation if the City declines to voluntarily convert to district-based elections for the City Council.

The City currently utilizes an at-large election system, which means that the electors from the entire City choose each member of the City Council. A district-based election system is one in which the city is physically divided into separate districts, each with one council member who resides in the district and is chosen by the electors residing in that particular district.

Cities throughout the state of California have increasingly been facing legal challenges such as this to their "at-large" systems of electing council members. Almost all have settled claims out of court by voluntarily shifting to district-based elections. On September 28, 2016, the Governor signed Assembly Bill 350 into law, which attempts to provide a "safe harbor" from CVRA litigation for cities. If a city receives a demand letter, such as in Mission Viejo's case, the city is given 45 days of protection from litigation to assess its situation. Specifically, if within that 45 days, a city adopts a resolution declaring the council's intent to transition from at-large to district-based elections outlining specific steps to be undertaken to facilitate the transition, and estimating a time frame for action, then a potential plaintiff is prohibited from filing a CVRA action for an additional 90-day period.

After evaluation, the Office of the City Attorney and Executive Staff believe that taking advantage of the safe harbor language under Assembly Bill 350 is the most appropriate action for the City to take. Under this "safe harbor," the City is required to hold five (5) public hearings within the allotted 90-day framework. The public hearings will give the community an opportunity to weigh in on the composition of the districts and provide input regarding the content of the draft maps and the proposed sequence of elections. The final public hearing will be when the Council votes to consider an ordinance establishing district-based elections.

Comments

The city’s October 24, 2017, resolution, included a tentative timeline of action:

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF
MISSION VIEJO, DECLARING ITS INTENT TO TRANSITION FROM
AT-LARGE TO DISTRICT-BASED COUNCILMEMBER ELECTIONS,
OUTLINING SPECIFIC STEPS TO BE UNDERTAKEN TO
FACILITATE THE TRANSITION, AND ESTIMATING A
TIMEFRAME FOR ACTION PURSUANT TO ELECTIONS CODE
SECTION 10010

The timeline includes a hearing date set for December 26. Is that hearing date still scheduled for December 26?

Thank you for your interest in this important public process. To clarify the facts as to scheduling, we reference you to both the written materials and the related and concurrent public discussion of the schedule. We took great care to note the schedule was “tentative” and an estimate, subject to change based on real world circumstances. Even the controlling law references tentative schedules, as people understand that future realities and common sense may alter a schedule. Thus, a “mechanical” or “carved in stone” schedule is not legally required and so is not offered to the public.

Honoring and respecting the seasonal holidays, and likewise, residents and interests, personal time and commitments are seen as taking precedence over a “fluid” schedule. Rest assured that the legal requirements are noted and respected – but with an eye to our residents’ lives, celebrations, and availability. William P. Curley, III, City Attorney

Thank you for your explanation, but when the Tentative Timeline was released on October 24, 2017, the day after Christmas has always been December 26.

Other timeline events that have been missed were on December 5, 2017: Post Draft Maps and Potential Sequence of Elections, and the December 19 event to post any amended maps. What real world circumstances have caused those dates to be postponed?

The council has been silent. For transparency, should a public document that is part of the Resolution be publicly discussed and amended? I have relied upon that public timeline in communications with my distribution list.

The public has largely been absent from attending these very important Public Hearings. Without public participation and oversight, there is a real chance for gerrymandering to occur, as there is a real possibility that 3 or 4 of our current council members could be in the same district. When will the “Potential Sequence of Elections” be discussed? When will the city be posting its version of the potential district maps?

Why has there not been a discussion on the option for the entire voting public to vote for a At Large Mayor for a 4 year term vs. the current system of the council appointing its Mayor for a one year term. Where in the public record does it show a discussion on creating 5 districts, when we could go anywhere from 4 to 9 districts.

The only major discussion by the council has been its consideration of a lawsuit. It has been well noted that not a single city or school district has successfully won a lawsuit fighting the "by-district" elections. Those who have fought - and lost - have paid out millions of dollars to the attorney's on both sides of the fight.

Other concerns: at the November 28 Public Hearings, the city attorney not only stated that workshops will be held, but also stated that school districts, HOA’s, water districts and “whatever” districts are the criteria for a fair and balanced district, yet those maps are not available or easily accessible to all residents, equally.

As the public’s submission map only has one layer, and that is population, what is the possibility of the maps submitted by the public being rejected as improper or unpopular because it did not meet any, all or some of the other criteria that the city attorney referenced , including voting, age, and ethnicity.

What is the status of the city attorney’s citizen committee? At the end of the public hearing, City Attorney Bill Curley went out into the audience and selectively handed out his business cards.

Where is the outreach? Where is the transparency?

I suggest that we remain as we are now with district-wide elections. Otherwise, I am fairly confident that the quality of candidates will suffer. This is pretty much a "numbers thing". The best representatives are not necessarily spread evenly over the entire geographic area. I am a resident of Mission Viejo since 1978.

I do not believe we need districts in order to get a good representation of who lives in Mission Viejo. There are not areas that would stand out as needing representation that are not represented or have not been represented. This will limit the quality of people running- if there is only a small number of residents and nobody steps up to run, it will be a mess.

The CVRA districting policy makes race the only factor and it should be challenged. I believe our minority population is too small to create a voting district with a “minority-majority” voting block. None of the districts created would include a Latino voting majority because there is no one area of the city where most Latinos live, and because their numbers are too small in any event. The Assignment spread sheet appears to point this out. The expense of implementing this is also a concern. I understand a Federal Court Judge in San Diego is being asked to file a preliminary injunction to halt this lawsuit. Resident of Mission Viejo for 47 years.

I also believe that restricting elections to pre-established map areas could limit the quality of candidates. We should have city representatives who truly want to do the job, not just a person who is running for office because their area needs someone. Mission Viejo appears to be pretty evenly spread out in terms of race, so I don't think the issues outlined in the lawsuit really apply to our city.

Special interest groups are at it again! Everyone thinks they are a "protected class". The only group that needs protection is civic minded American citizens. Our community has no racially divided areas because of the good planning and foresight of the Mission Viejo Company. I have lived in this here since 1986, prior to city hood in 1988. Our demographics are uniform with no high density of "protected classes" that can be isolated into a district. Therefore we should be exempt from this frivolous lawsuit. If the city attorney can't shake this on off quickly then we should find one who can.

A clarification of this residents post is needed. There is no lawsuit at this time. Only the threat of a suit if the facts show actual racial polarization. There may never be a lawsuit. This is a fact gathering time. If a lawsuit is filed, ever, it would be properly addressed. Please do not believe that there is a lawsuit and please do understand that the facts, not unsupported opinion, will lead to the conclusions reached.

Thank-you for the clarification.

I like the idea of districts. It will help us know which person to contact.

Stay as we are. Stand. up to this Malibu based law firm and say no!

In order to attract the most qualified candidates for positions, an at-large approach would provide the most effective way to encourage a wide variety of candidate participation. We are a diverse community with excellent representation. Keep the process open to all to best serve the residents of Mission Viejo.

Without street names and landmarks, such as schools and parks designated on the city's Plan Proposal Submission Map, it is difficult to pinpoint on the map, the boundaries for the three water districts and two school districts within Mission Viejo's borders. These are two of the needed layers to support a well-balanced district map as stated by the city attorney. Also, to maintain cohesiveness and integrity, the boundaries of HOA’s are to be preserved in the same District. Where can the public find that information?

What are the Census Block Numbers of the current city council members? In my review, it appears that Wendy Bucknum resides in Census Block Number 28, Brian Goodell resides in Census Block Number 49, Greg Raths is in Census Block Number 55, with Ed Sachs in Census Block Number 57, and Trish Kelley in Census Block Number 59. Please verify and/or correct my information.

Thank you.

This appears to be both an attempt at reverse discrimination and a money-grab by unscrupulous litigators. The at-large system in current use permits the city as a whole to vote, and representation is in accordance to the total distribution of voters. There is no discrimination there. Setting up districts is an attempt to concentrate voters so that certain groups will gain disproportionate influence in the elections.
I am completely against this attempt to influence our politics to the interest of a small number of the constituents.
I have been a resident of MV since 1995.

The Mission Viejo City Council that has been elected through the at-large election process since the City’s inception has made Mission Viejo the beautiful family community that it is now. I do not see a need to change our method of electing our City Council. I believe the concerns the potential plaintiffs have about diluting the voice of a protected class does not apply to our City.

If someone from a protected class chooses to run for a seat at the City Council, I don’t see how he/she is prevented from running. Like any candidate he/she needs to make their case to the voters that he/she will look out for the best interest of the citizens of the City.

My husband and I are in the minority group. We purchased our home in Mission Viejo with our two young sons in 1990 because of the City’s beauty, cleanliness and, most importantly, it’s reputation as a family community. We were not disappointed. The City Council has always looked out for the best interest of all the ciitzens of Mission Viejo.

I hope that at the final hearing the City Council will vote to decline to transition to district-based elections and, if possible, attempt to obtain a permanent safe harbor status for our City. We don’t need to waste our tax dollars in transitioning to a district-based election process unnecessarily.

Thank you for allowing us to voice our opinions online.

I like the idea of Districts. I think it would help to diversify the council members who represent our city. It would also allow voters to really get to know their representative... Mission Viejo has nearly 100,000 residents. You can't expect every council member to be able to be in touch with all the different neighborhoods and demographic groups for a city that large. I would love to have ONE city council member who I could speak to about the concerns I have that affect my specific neighborhood, for example, the public schools my children attend; or the parks that we visit; or the stores that are closing or opening. etc. Just because something has been done one way for as long as we can remember, doesn't mean our processes can't be improved upon.

I have lived in Mission Viejo since 2008.

I hope our city will not support Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) or feel that we need to change to district-based elections. Please avoid this idea of social engineering of America’s neighborhoods. I hope for protection of our American property rights and local representation in the City of Mission Viejo. Do not change from at-large elections please.

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