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Politics

Poway Considering Council District Boundaries In Wake Of Legal Threat

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus is seen in this undated photo.
City of Poway
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus is seen in this undated photo.
Poway Considering Council District Boundaries In Wake Of Legal Threat
The latest city in San Diego County to start a rapid shift from citywide elections to district elections is Poway.

The latest city in San Diego County to start making a rapid shift from citywide elections to district elections is Poway.

RELATED: Like Dominos, North San Diego County Cities Are Moving To District Elections

After being threatened earlier this month with a lawsuit, Poway City Council voted unanimously to consider changing to district elections at its July 18 meeting.

Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman estimated Poway is one of more than two dozen California cities he has threatened to sue for violating the California Voting Rights Act.

Shenkman said 15.7 percent of Poway residents are Latino, and the last Latino to run for city council there was in 1998. District voting could offer minorities more representation.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said he questioned how necessary districts are for Poway, a city with fewer than 50,000 residents.

“I’m surprised that we would be a target of this action,” Vaus said, “but if this can help us to more effectively represent every person in Poway, then it’s the right thing to do.”

Vaus said he has mixed feelings about being forced to divide the city into four voting districts.

“Whatever districts we come up with, I’m sure we’re going to find qualified people in the future that are interested in serving the community,” he said. “However, when you break a city up into parts, I think it creates bigger challenge to get things done for the whole.”

Poway has 90 days to draw the new district boundaries, or face Shenkman in court. Shenkman said he would consider sending letters to any city with a population of more than 1,000. He said there is already evidence that the cities he has sued have benefited from the change.

Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman is seen via Skype, June 27, 2017.
Skype
Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman is seen via Skype, June 27, 2017.

“We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen in the cities that have made the change," Shenkman said. “Whether it be Palmdale or Highland or San Juan Capistrano, there’s been real change after even one cycle of elections that have occurred, and you know, minority communities in various cities suddenly find that they too can achieve representation.”

Palmdale spent more than $4 million fighting the change — and lost.

In San Diego County, San Marcos voted to change to district elections last year, the city of Vista approved district boundaries last week and Oceanside, after nine public meetings, will vote on the issue by Aug. 1. Carlsbad is also in the process of deciding on new district boundaries, as a result of a legal challenge from Shenkman.

Santee, Oceanside Unified School District and Tri City Hospital have also received letters from Shenkman. The Tri City board has made no definite decision yet.

Shenkman said only two cities — Rancho Cucamonga and Santa Monica — are fighting the change.