The Santa Maria City Council, in a 4-1 vote Tuesday, picked its new election district boundaries and which quadrants of the city will choose its representatives in the 2018 election.
The council picked the map drawn by National Demographics Corporation (NDC), the firm it hired to guide them through this process. The map was labeled "Map N" for the purpose of the meeting held at the Minami Center.
Councilman Michael Moats cast the lone dissenting vote.
The election district map chosen by the City Council beat out two other maps submitted by residents that the council narrowed down from a total of 16 map options at its April 20 special meeting.
The city’s southeast and southwest quadrants will choose their representatives first, according to the map.
The southwest district reaches from the Santa Maria Public Airport to about Main Street at the west side of Broadway. The southeast district stretches from the Orcutt border, past Marian Regional Medical Center, to the Santa Maria River levee.
Incumbent Councilman Jack Boysen resides in the southwest district, and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield lives in the southeast.
The process to change Santa Maria’s election system started after Hector Sanchez, an unsuccessful candidate for City Council in the 2016 election, threatened to sue the city if it did not create election districts.
“I think we saw many people come forward for this process," Sanchez said Tuesday after the council made its decision. "I hope that this will be a catalyst for more civic engagement from the voters. This is about representation and a more democratic city. I am certain you will see the impact in 2018 and 2020."
The chosen map was the only one of the three options that adhered strictly to the criteria city leaders set for election maps at its April hearing, while also taking into consideration issues that the City Council heard from the public and other organizations since deciding to make the transition from its current at-large election system to a by-district one.
“The council listened to a number of the members of the public during the previous hearings and chose to consider a couple of suggestions from the public in identifying their optional criteria in which to consider district map boundaries,” Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon said.
The council decreed that the city’s population had to be equally divided into four districts; the districts had to follow the rules set by the Federal Voting Rights Act; they had to start their divisions at Broadway and Main streets; and a portion of each district had to contain a part of the city’s downtown. Demographers also were directed to do their best to avoid head-to-head election contests between incumbent council members in an effort to promote continuity of government.
At previous public hearings, the council heard from the public that renters’ rights should be considered when drawing the election boundaries.
The city also heard from groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Community Organizing Director at the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which asked that at least two of the chosen election districts have a majority of Latino voters and that one of those districts be up for election in 2018.
“They also wanted to see a fair representation of renters in each one of the districts," Haydon said. "The council was successful in complying with MALDEF and CAUSE’s request to have one Latino majority district up for election in 2018."
According to data gathered by the NDC, 50 percent of Santa Maria’s population rent their homes.
“The district map the council chose is comprised of three out of four districts having Latino majority, which is more than what the law requires or that CAUSE or MALDEF asked for. The council was successful in complying with MALDEF's and CAUSE's request to have one Latino majority district up for election in November 2018,” Haydon said.
As predicted at previous public hearings by Councilman Mike Cordero, not everyone was happy with the council’s decision.
Though the number of the public speakers who participated in Tuesday’s meeting dropped from a couple dozen at other gatherings to 16, everyone who spoke was in support of a different map option -- "Map J," which would have placed each incumbent council person in head-to-head races.