Solana Beach gives final approval to new voting plan

With no discussion, the Solana Beach City Council gave final approval to a plan to hold district elections for council positions in 2020, as well as allowing voters to directly choose a mayor for the first time.

The unanimous vote came at the council's meeting on Tuesday, July 10. It brought to a close deliberations that began earlier this year when a Malibu-based attorney threatened to sue the city for alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act.

An ordinance establishing the district elections, along with a map for carving the city into four council districts, was introduced June 26. On Tuesday, the council held the second and final reading of the ordinance. No one from the public requested to speak on the issue.

Under the city's current electoral system, all five council members are elected by the entire city, and the mayor's post rotates annually among council members. The new system will take effect for the 2020 elections, when voters will elect two council members by district, and all voters will also cast ballots for mayor. The other two council districts will come up for election in 2022.

The city launched the redistricting process after receiving a letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman, who alleged that Solana Beach's at-large election system dilutes the votes of Latinos and discourages Latino candidates to run for council.

The final electoral map approved by the council contains the neighborhood of La Colonia de Eden Gardens, the city's historically Latino area, within a single council district.

City officials have denied all along that the city's electoral system violates the state's voting rules, but said they made a business decision to go to district elections to avoid the potential of costly litigation. Most California cities that have fought such challenges in court over the past several years have lost their cases.

Mayor David Zito said that although the city did not want to change an electoral system that it viewed as fundamentally fair, "This is the right thing to do, it's keeping us moving forward."

State law gave the city 90 days of "safe harbor," during which it could not be sued for alleged voting rights violations, as long as it was pursuing the change to district elections. The law also mandates that the city hold five public meetings to receive comment on the proposed change. Tuesday marked the city's fifth and final meeting on the issue.

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