By Roberta Millstein
Last night at its regular meeting, the Davis City Council began the community discussion of how we should move forward with district elections for the Council, the decision to do so having already been made. No decisions were made and no votes were taken, although some preliminary preferences were expressed by Councilmembers.
Here are just some quick thoughts of mine after watching the livestream of the meeting from home. No doubt my views will evolve as the process continues.
First, if you missed the meeting, I highly recommend watching the presentation from demographer Paul Mitchell; videos from meetings are posted here, slides from his presentation are available here. It was clear and informative, including explanations of what constitutes a community of interest and the idea of being functionally contiguous.
The idea is of a community of interest is to bring “like people together for representation.” Communities of interest, Mitchell explained, include ethnic and language minorities, but they are not limited to that. Indeed, he emphasized that “While race is a community of interest, it cannot be the predominant factor in drawing districts.” Other examples of communities of interest include:
- People living near an industry (farming, higher education, manufacturing)
- Senior Citizens or Students
- Downtown / Urban
- Rural or Agricultural
- Homeowners or Renters
The communities of interest help to specify where the boundaries of districts should be drawn, so they are very important. The City has asked citizens for their input on these communities. I strongly recommend that all Davisites give their views on important communities of interest in the City; you can do so here.
Mitchell also emphasized that districts must be functionally contiguous. My understanding of this is that you must be able to get to every point in the district from every other point in the district without leaving the district. So, for example, for North Davis to be a district that includes Wildhorse, Covell Blvd would have to be included, along with justification that it constitutes a community of interest. Note that it is not enough to be geographically adjacent; you have to be able to “get there from here.”
Councilmembers seemed interested in forming 5 or 7 districts, with some Councilmembers leaning one way or the other, and some still undecided. Districts need to be roughly equal in numbers, as determined by the last census (2010, which counted 65,622 people). With 5 districts, each district would be around 13,000 people in size. The number of districts to be formed will be decided at a future meeting. Here I agree with Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida that it makes sense to wait until we see some proposed districts before deciding on which number is appropriate.
Another issue that Council will have to decide is how to choose a Mayor. There seemed to be little interest among Councilmembers in having a Mayor elected at large, in (large?) part because of worries that it would run afoul of the very law that led to the change to district elections in the first place. That leaves two options: 1) a Mayor that rotates between districts and 2) a Mayor that is chosen by Councilmembers.
I didn’t get the sense that the Council was leading strongly one way or the other, but I think that the first option is far preferable. In the past (not with any members of the current Council), Mayors improperly used their power to cut short the commentary of minority views on Council. If the Mayor is elected by members of Council, that is too likely to result in the majority view always been Mayor. The whole point of district elections (whatever one thinks of them) is to give more voice to minority views. Having the Mayor rotate between districts is a far fairer procedure, in my opinion.
Implied in my previous paragraph is the sense that the elected person from a district is in some sense representing people of that district. Mitchell seemed to downplay this, suggesting that it is only on Election Day that districts matter; otherwise, all Councilmembers represent the entire City.
I think Mitchell’s view here is overly idealistic. A Councilmember who does not represent the interests of their district will likely find themselves not re-elected. As an analogy, consider our Congressperson, John Garamendi. Yes, of course we hope and expect that he will represent the interests of the entire country, but we also expect that he will represent the particular interests of our district, the 3rd District of California. Similarly, we should expect Councilmembers from a district to represent both the entire City and the district. After all, isn’t that the point of district elections? (Again, regardless of what one thinks of them – I don’t see any reason to discuss their pros and cons given that the switch is a done deal). Thus, this is something we should keep in mind while drawing districts, something the City is also asking for Citizen input on (see schedule at right).
The next meeting to further discuss district elections will be on September 10 at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers. Stay tuned!