Grover Beach recently launched its transition to district-based City Council elections, one of several jurisdictions throughout San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast using 2020 census data to draw new voter boundaries that will be used in the November 2022 elections.
At a meeting on June 28, Grover Beach City Council held its first of four public hearings regarding the districting process, where demographics consultants with the National Demographics Corporation outlined how the mapping process will work. City Council plans to get deeper into specific boundary considerations at the next hearing on July 26, and Mayor Jeff Lee said he hopes to get more input from the public then.
"I know from a community standpoint, electing our City Council members and our public officials is one of the main items that voters can do in Grover Beach," Lee said at the meeting. "And in order to do that effectively we definitely need your voice and your input in order to define where those districts are going to be, which will then kind of lead our city into the next direction of council members."
Grover Beach City Council adopted a resolution declaring its intent to transition from at-large to district-based elections in July 2019, a process that will involve separating the city into a few geographic regions where residents from each section will be able to elect one City Council member residing in their district. Under the current election system, all voters registered within city limits cast votes in the races for every council seat.
The decision came after the city received a notice from attorney Jeffrey Mayes on behalf of Grover Beach resident Felipe Rueff, alleging that the city's at-large election system could violate the California Voting Rights Act, a state law prohibiting at-large election systems that make it difficult for underserved demographics to elect candidates of their choice. While the Voting Rights Act is intended to increase representation of minority groups on councils across the state, some say the law goes too far and makes it nearly impossible for cities to fight the incoming lawsuits.
Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, scores of California jurisdictions—including Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande, the Oceano Community Services District, and the Lucia Mar Unified School District—have transitioned to the district-based election system or are in the process of doing so. Most only moved to transition in the face of legal threats from community members.
At the June 28 hearing, consultants and city staff encouraged council members to think about what factors should be considered while drafting district maps.
"Over the next month, ... if the council members can be thinking about areas of the city that really should fit together, whether they're north, south, east, west, school boundaries, just be thinking intrinsically about what makes sense to fit together," City Manager Matt Bronson said, "then we can approach the July hearing with that in mind and walk out of that hearing with a list of different defined areas, and we can then begin to put the maps together from staff's end." Δ