A judge who already determined that Santa Clara’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act is hearing proposals for how to carve up the city into as many as seven districts to ensure fair representation for minority groups.
Though Asian Americans making up about 40 percent of Santa Clara’s population, its City Council has not had an Asian American member since the city charter was adopted 67 years ago. A group of Asian Americans suing over the city’s at-large voting system has been in court since Wednesday to figure out how draw the boundaries for each district.
Anaheim’s Mayor Pro Tem Jose Moreno testified in court Wednesday about the advantages of district elections in his own city, including how it energized the community overall and younger voters in particular.
If the city and the plaintiffs cannot reach an agreement by today, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle will be the one to decide on the district maps. But Kuhnle stressed the importance of having the redrawn boundaries in place by the fall election.
The plaintiffs and the city have been at odds over whether the mayor should continue to be elected by all voters in the city or appointed among elected council members. Santa Clara officials want a six-district map with an elected mayor. The plaintiffs want seven districts with an appointed mayor.
“We strongly disagree with all of the city maps,” Richard Konda, of the Asian Law Alliance, said after the Wednesday hearing.
The city initially pitched the idea of a two-district system through Measure A on the June 5 ballot, but voters rejected the proposal. Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor vowed to bring yet another two-district proposal back to voters in the fall, but it appears the court ruling would throw a wrench in that effort.
Shifting to district elections would dramatically shift the balance of power in Santa Clara, where Gillmor leads a majority bloc on the council.
Judge Kuhnle will also have to decide whether the sitting council members should serve out the remainder of their terms. Gillmor and Councilman Pat Kolstad finish their terms this year, while the seats held by councilors Debi Davis, Patricia Mahan, Teresa O’Neill and Kathy Watanabe come up for election in 2020.
Under the city’s proposal, Watanabe would be assigned to District 1, O’Neill in District 4 and Mahan in District 5. Districts 2 and 3 would be left open.