Council to decide between two districting maps

The Encinitas City Council is moving forward to consider two maps, one of which would decide how the city is split into districts.

The council on Oct. 30 at a special meeting decided, with Council member Mark Muir voting no and Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz abstaining, to dwindle down a total of 22 maps to two citizen-submitted ones.

Either of the two maps would divide Encinitas into four districts with an at-large mayor. According to the submitter's comments on the city's website, one of the maps, titled "Citizen 15," would "Keep core communities in tact [and] give all four a stake in El Camino Real." The other map, "Citizen 16," would "Keep the core of communities together, cluster neighborhoods, and give three communities responsibility for the coast, El Camino Real and the Escondido Creek San Elijo Watershed," according to the submitter.

Doug Johnson, the demographer the city hired to help with the maps, said it would be impossible for Encinitas to keep all five of its existing communities in tact and meet the demands of attorney Kevin Shenkman, who threatened the city with a lawsuit in July because he said the city is diluting the votes of minorities with its current at-large election system, thus violating the state’s Voting Rights Act of 2001.

He also accused Encinitas of being discriminatory against Latinos, saying the city has a long history of hostility toward Latinos as evidenced by the fact that its first mayor repeatedly made racist statements during council meetings in the late 1980s.

Shenkman has targeted many cities around California to move from at-large elections to district elections. In San Diego County, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Poway and Vista recently made the moves to district elections to avoid litigation from Shenkman.

Currently, Encinitas residents are asked to vote for two at-large candidates for city council and one candidate for mayor every two years. In the past, the mayor was a rotating position.

In August, the city council declared its intent to move toward district elections to avoid litigation and is deciding whether to implement four districts with an at-large mayor or five districts with a rotating mayor.

Johnson advised the council that it "can't achieve all the goals perfectly." Populations in Olivenhain and Cardiff made it difficult to not divide New Encinitas, for example, he said.

"We have to come up with the best map that balances all of those," he said. "All the maps have challenges, but equal population is the roughest thing to get. You can't follow natural borders like freeways."

The council appeared to generally favor map 16 but is expected to make a decision at the Nov. 8 meeting. The map would then be adopted Nov. 15. The city must make a decision by Nov. 28 to stay within a 90-day litigation hold window.

But many people at the meeting also spoke in opposition to the city moving forward with districts at all.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz said he believes Encinitas should keep its current at-large system, at least while a similar case in Poway is being heard.

Former Poway Mayor Don Higginson filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month challenging the constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Because Kranz received little support for waiting until the Poway decision — although Muir and Council member Joe Mosca each said they're also curious about that court ruling — Kranz decided to abstain from the Oct. 30 vote.

"We're doing a wrong thing but I don't want it to be a no vote so people don't think I have a problem with one map or the other," he said.

Kranz also asked if Encinitas could fight this issue in court and form a class action lawsuit with Poway.

Christopher Skinnell, the special counsel the city hired regarding districting, said the city could sue but there would be no guarantee it would be the same judge from the Poway case, and therefore the Encinitas decision may be entirely different from Poway's.

Kranz and Mosca were unanimously appointed to a subcommittee for potential litigation regarding the California Voting Rights Act at the end of the meeting.

Muir, the only voting council member who voted no, said he was tempted to abstain but decided not to. He said he wished the issue could go to the residents to vote on, but if the city must choose between the two maps, he preferred 16.

Other residents urged the council to fight the districting process.

Resident Sandy Beck said the city should not give in to a "bully" lawyer's demands.

"We are unique here," she said. "We have resolve to fight for our rights. I think you'll see a clear majority of citizens here want you to fight this. We are worth it."

Mayor Catherine Blakespear, however, said it is important the city move forward with district elections to avoid possible litigation. The city is already spending money on lawsuits involving the housing element update, she said.

Robert McFarlane, a 47-year resident who helped the city incorporate, said, above anything, Encinitas should keep in mind the values it was founded on, of five communities banding together to keep their unique characters alive.

Districts will be implemented in the November 2018 or November 2020 election.

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