The Buellton City Council on Thursday unanimously voted to comply with part of the California Voting Rights Act, electing city council members by district, rather than the current at-large system.

The City Council approved a resolution establishing its intention to comply with California Elections Code Section 10010(e)(3)(A) during the special meeting.

The meeting was held after the city received a letter from a Malibu-based lawyer on Sept. 28 threatening litigation if the city didn’t comply.

City Attorney Greg Murphy told councilors his office would negotiate a settlement with Kevin I. Shenkman of the Shenkman and Hughes law firm.

Murphy said normally California’s Voting Rights Act would require the city to complete the move to the new system within 90 days of adopting the resolution, but because of the holidays and the upcoming 2020 census, Murphy said, “We are proposing that we instead move to districts in the year 2022.”

Murphy said Shenkman has been amenable to that in the past.

Shenkman has, over the last six years, turned the process of forcing district elections on cities into something of a career.

He has sent letters to dozens of California cities with at-large council elections demanding that they switch to district elections.

The Voting Rights Act has given minorities a pathway to show they are discriminated against by cities that elect council members at-large, where all the voters elect all the council members.

By forcing cities to elect council members by district, minority voters have a greater voice within their districts.

The district system was recently adopted by the cities of Lompoc and Santa Maria and implemented with the Nov. 6 General Election.

Murphy said he would address the council in a closed session during its January meeting to further advise it on the matter.

Councilor David King moved to adopt the resolution. Councilor Art Mercado seconded.

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