The Encinitas City Council on Nov. 15 sealed its Nov. 8 decision to move the city to four districts in a map submitted by council member Tasha Boerner Horvath.
The council voted 3 to 2 — with Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and Mark Muir dissenting — to adopt "Citizen Map 016," which divides the city into four districts with an elected mayor. Representatives for districts three and four, as well as an at-large mayor, would be voted on in 2018, and districts one and two would be decided in 2020.
Horvath announced at the Nov. 8 meeting that she designed the map, along with the other map option, the council was deliberating on.
Resident Steven Winters questioned why the council ultimately voted on the maps designed by Boerner Horvath, who was not previously disclosed as the author before the council's decision.
"This was a back-room deal lacking transparency... and leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Encinitas residents," Winters said, adding he believed some council members had a “hidden agenda” regarding districting.
He added that he believed five other maps met the council's criteria, but council member Joe Mosca said those options did not work for various reasons, including the city's current five communities being "dramatically divided."
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.
The city received a letter July 20 from Santa Monica-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, who threatened to sue the city if it did not move to district elections.
In his four-page letter, Shenkman said Encinitas 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.
Legally, Encinitas had 90 days to make its decision regarding districts, with a deadline of Nov. 28.
Some residents at the meeting urged the council to allow the voters to decide if the city should move to districts. Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz once again urged the council that they were making a "mistake" and suggested Shenkman's letter was a "ransom note" and "not a death threat."
He also said the city should wait to see the results of a similar court case in Poway.
Former Poway Mayor Don Higginson filed a federal lawsuit last month challenging the constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Muir, with Kranz seconding, said after the 3 to 2 vote that staff should bring back options to place districting on the ballot in the June or November election. That decision will be made at a future council meeting, although Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she did not support the idea.
Blakespear argued the city should move forward with district elections now to avoid potential litigation. The city is already spending money on lawsuits involving the housing element update, she said.
"To me, moving to districts is the responsible thing to do," she said.