Woodland's proposed council map draws gerrymander concerns

Published: Saturday, Jun. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 7:48 am

Woodland's first attempt at drawing City Council districts appears to protect sitting councilmen living in close proximity and is catching heat from critics who consider it a bad case of incumbent gerrymandering.

The city is drawing a new district-based map as it moves away from at-large elections to comply with the 2002 California Voting Rights Act, which was intended to diversify local governments in areas with large minority populations.

Though Woodland has a plurality of Hispanic residents, none currently sits on the council.

"My initial reaction to the map is that it's unacceptable," said Art Pimentel, a former mayor and one of only three Latinos ever to hold office in Woodland. "The unfortunate issue of the map is that the priority seemed to be around protecting incumbents."

Woodland has scheduled a ballot measure establishing district elections for June 2014, with the first district-based contests set for 2016.

Four of the council's five members live within about a mile of each other in south Woodland, a less-diverse part of the city. But only two councilmen, Tom Stallard and Mayor Skip Davies, would live in the same district under the proposed map, and Davies plans to step down after 2014.

Under that map, the remaining four incumbents would avoid facing each other.

"That's clearly not the priority," Pimentel said. "There is a lot more work that needs to be done."

The map proposed last week by Councilmen William Marble and Stallard – the two members charged with drawing new boundaries – carves the city into five districts of roughly 11,000 residents each.

Three of the proposed districts have a majority-Hispanic population, though it is unclear how many are of voting age.

Stallard defended the boundaries, saying he "wasn't going to throw any of my colleagues under the bus" by drawing districts that would pit council members against each other.

Still, Stallard acknowledged, "some people have a lot of concern. We're talking about the future of representation" in Woodland.

A special citizens commission to be nominated by the council will work to craft alternative district maps.

The commission will report back to the City Council with its recommendations in August.

"Their charge is to work with the map we sent them," Stallard said on Wednesday. "But they have the freedom to start from scratch. That's really up to their discretion."

In a city where Latinos make up nearly half of the population yet have had historically little representation at City Hall, critics want the new citizens commission to scrap the first map entirely.

"A map should not have been drawn prior to a committee being formed. I just think it will lead to undue influence," retired Woodland educator Evelia Genera said. "You need to trust that the people of the city will do what's best for the city."

Marble said the map was a first draft in a lengthy process.

"That map was a starting point to get the conversation going," Marble said. "At the end of the day, we're going to have a map. What we need to be doing is to comply with the letter and the spirit of the California Voting Rights Act to enfranchise minority voters and all voters."

Call The Bee's Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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