Prospective candidates can now pick up paperwork to run in Encinitas' first-ever, district-based City Council elections.
Like many a California community, Encinitas is shifting to the new system in response to a lawsuit threat by Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who contends that at-large elections dilute the votes of minorities and thus violate the state's Voting Rights Act of 2001. Encinitas made the change late last year in response to a letter from Shenkman, and this will be the city's first council election under the new system.
District-based elections where voters elect one council representative from their neighborhood, rather than selecting all of a city's council members, are thought to make running for political office less time-consuming and less costly, thus opening up the posts to people who might not otherwise consider running. Whether the change will increase the number of council candidates this year in Encinitas remains to be seen.
City Clerk Kathy Hollywood said she's gotten one or two calls from people contemplating a run for council this year, but "I think it's too early to tell."
"This will be our first test," she said, adding, "I think this election will really be a good indicator of what to expect in the future."
Under the new system, Encinitas has been carved into four districts, and people who live in two of these districts will each be electing a council member in November, while voters in the other two areas will do so in 2020. The mayor's spot -- a two-year post -- will continue to be an at-large election position where all of the city's voters participate in the selection process.
The two districts areas on the ballot this year are District 3 -- a region that covers the coastal Cardiff area as well as part of the city's mid-section -- and District 4 -- an area that contains the city's eastern community of Olivenhain as well as much of New Encinitas.
Councilman Mark Muir lives in the northern part of District 3, while Councilman Joe Mosca lives in the Olivenhain portion of District 4. Both men have announced that they will seek election under the new system. Muir already has a challenger -- Cardiff resident Jody Hubbard.
"I would have run regardless now," Hubbard said when asked whether the city's shift to the new system had influenced her decision to run.
Hubbard, 61, is a city Planning Commissioner who is making her first bid for elected office. She's lived and worked in Encinitas for nearly 20 years and she's gotten her long-term care insurance business to a level where she now can devote time to other activities, she said.
However, she said, a district-based system does have its benefits because it allows voters to develop a personal relationship with the council member who represents them. She's hoping to go door-to-door campaigning throughout all of District 3, she added.
The council traditionally takes a summer recess in July and Muir, a two-term council member and a retired city fire chief, couldn't be reached for comment.
Mosca, who was appointed to the council in January 2017, said he's already seeing benefits with the district-based system.
"I am finding I am spending less time asking people for money and more time knocking on doors," he said.
The 45-year-old electric company employee said he's hoping to walk throughout his district knocking on doors several times during the campaign season. Quality of life issues, such as traffic congestion, are likely top concerns anywhere in town, but District 4 voters want to know what he'll do about conditions on Rancho Santa Fe Road and El Camino Real, he said.
The filing deadline to run for council is scheduled to close at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, provided the incumbents file for their seats. If they do not, then the deadline for that position will be extended to Aug. 15, the clerk's office reports. City Hall is closed every other Friday, and Aug. 10 is one of those Friday closures, but the clerk's office will remain open to accept candidate paperwork.
In order to run for a district council seat, candidates need to live in the district they're representing, be registered voters, be at least 18 years old and a California citizen. They cannot be a convicted criminal.
To view maps showing the new district boundary lines, visit: www.ci.encinitas.ca.us/Government/Municipal-Elections
District boundaries are based on population using federal census figures and will be redrawn after the next census. District 3 has a population of 15,379 people, with 10,185 registered to vote as of November 2014. District 4 has a population of 14,905, with 10,209 registered to vote as of November 2014.
--Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune