Concord is one of several cities in California to change the way they elect their city council members to comply with the California Voting Rights Act passed in 2001. Beginning this November, Concord voters will cast their ballot for candidates running from their district only. No longer will council members be elected at-large. Voters in Districts 1, 3 and 5 will elect representatives to four-year terms in 2018. Council seats in Districts 2 and 4 will be up for election in 2020. The white hole between districts 1 and 5 is the unicorporated area around Ayers Road. (Map Courtesy City of Concord)
The Concord City Council gave final approval Feb. 27 to a district election plan that will dramatically change the way voters have always elected their council members. The city will move to district-based elections this fall to comply with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
The CVRA says at-large elections are illegal when they “impair the ability of a protected class … to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election,” which happens frequently when minorities are clustered in a geographic area.
The new plan is a radical shift from at-large elections that have always been held in Concord where every voter in the city votes for the full slate of candidates.
Concord’s map creates five separate districts of equal population (approximately 24,000 each). The CVRA requires that communities of interest (neighborhoods sharing schools, shopping areas, etc.) stay together and that the districts be contiguous and as compact as possible. The ethnic makeup of an area can be considered, but it can’t be the sole determining factor.
The city held four public hearings over two months, sought input on a “Town Hall” website and met with neighborhoods and community leaders in an effort to get the word out.
Still, Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister is worried that the change will take Concord voters by surprise this November. “We’ve done everything we can think of to inform people,” she told the Pioneer.
“But, a lot of people are on auto-pilot and will be surprised when they don’t get a council ballot this fall.”
This November, voters in Districts 1, 3 and 5 will each elect a council member to a four-year term. In 2020, seats in Districts 2 and 4 will be up for election.
Incumbents Hoffmeister (District 1) and Tim McGallian (District 5) have already announced their intention to run for re-election. There will be no incumbent running from District 3, the Monument area. Community activist and Bike Concord volunteer Kenji Yamada moved to District 3 last month and plans to run in November.
Mayor, Edi Birsan lives in District 4, the area south of Monument Blvd. Councilmember Carlyn Obringer lives in District 2 which covers North Concord. Ron Leone lives in District 1 but will not be running, he said.
The change to district elections is in response to a letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman to some 250 California cities threatening to sue if they didn’t immediately adopt a district election plan—whether it made sense for their city or not. So far, only two California cities have fought Shenkman and they both lost, resulting in multi-million dollar settlements.
Martinez approved their district plan last month. Brentwood, Pittsburg, Antioch and the Dublin School District are all working on their own plans.
For complete info on Concord’s move to district elections go to www.cityofconcord.org.