Antioch Council moves forward with district elections process, Tiscareno and Wright challenge need

How will the City of Antioch be divided up into four districts based on equal population if the Council approves a new plan for elections to comply with the CA Voting Rights Act? The public will be able to give input during five public hearings.

Wright, Tiscareno not happy but Mayor votes yes, Councilman gives “symbolic” vote against; Mayor holds moment of silence, closes meeting in honor of the two sisters who died from car accident last week

By Allen Payton

Antioch Councilman Tony Tiscareno and Mayor Sean Wright were not happy with the city being threatened with a lawsuit if the council didn’t move towards district elections, and let the public know during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. However, the council ended up voting 4-1 in favor of moving the process forward, with Tiscareno offering the only dissenting vote in what he referred to as a symbolic gesture.

“It has nothing to do with diversity. If we’re going to do this because we’re facing a lawsuit, then I’m going to vote against it,” he said. “I’m not only saying this as a Council Member, I’m saying this as a Latino” because the lawyer threatening the lawsuit is claiming that the current at-large voting hurts Latino candidates’ chances of getting elected.

Wright said he thinks “this is going to be horrible for the city” and that it will cause division. But, he voted in favor of moving the process forward without committing to approving district voting.

The city now has 90 days to hold five public hearings to develop a plan, including maps of the four possible districts, and then adopt an ordinance and approve the final map, for implementation as soon as this November. (See related article for details.)

The council heard the staff report from Interim City Attorney Derek Cole, who shared information from a letter that a lawyer sent to the city in November.

“The letter writer asserts Latino voters are disadvantaged in this city and that racially polarized voting exists,” he said.

He explained that at two public meetings the council will consider the various interests that will go into drawing the maps, based on things such as communities of interest. There will be a public outreach effort and the consultant will develop the maps.

“Then there will be a third meeting, a workshop where you would share the maps,” Cole explained. Then the fourth and fifth meeting will be for developing and enacting the ordinance. The city will build a website, a very easy page for the public to have all the resources to understand the process, including PowerPoints which Ms. McDonald will provide.

“This is a complex process…that’s evolving now,” he shared. “We will do everything we can to make sure the process has maximum exposure to the public.”

“The 45-day safe harbor ends at the end of this month. So, if the council doesn’t take action tonight then the plaintiff can move forward with their lawsuit. The legal effect is to kick-off the process and to get an additional 90 days,” Cole added. The process is also “to avoid the attorney fees that can be awarded in these types of cases. The courts have awarded attorney fees of many of hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars have been awarded where cities have lost.”

Public Hearing Comments

As the proponent of the item, the attorney who sent the letter and threatened the lawsuit, Scott Rafferty of Walnut Creek, was allotted 10 minutes to speak.

“I wanted to congratulate you…that was a superb presentation,” he said to Cole. “I think it’s important that this is a process that’s respectful of incumbents. But it’s terribly disruptive. What I hope you can do is create a collaborative model, here…concluded with the consensus of the community.”

Rafferty wants to make sure that the new districts, if adopted by the council, will go into effect for the November election, and the that process has a short time frame so it can be implemented “quickly as feasible.”

“I understand the Registrar of our county has told Concord that he’s not going to be able to do this and that they’ll have to run their own election. But that’s not his prerogative to do. The Registrar is without authority to say he won’t do it this year. He (County Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla) has to make this work,” he explained.

“We filed this a year before the election,” Rafferty said. There’s a short time frame, “to get the job done with the presumption there will be a remedy in 2018. I don’t think that’s necessarily essential. But I think you have to hear from the community, first.”

There are horror stories with this statute, he added.

Speaking as the leader of the opposition was Antioch Economic Development Commissioner Tim McCall who was also given 10 minutes.

The City’s Mission Statement reads, ‘Unify our diverse community,’” he said. “Reading this report was disturbing. Seeing the diversity on the current and past council, this is patently untrue. Changing to district-based would be a serious setback. Dividing the City of Antioch is not the way to create a community. Districting will pit one group, one area against another.”

“Do we want council members to only care about one district in Antioch?”  McCall asked. “Does this create community pride or community divide? Division will be the biggest result.”

However, he said, “If we area forced into district-based voting…it is imperative that we keep voting at large for the mayor position. This could mean looking into charter cities, again…looking outside the box.

“Our mission statement reads, ‘Unify our diverse community,’” McCall reiterated. “District-based voting does the exact opposite.”

Martha Goralka was the only other public speaker, representing the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, first saying “a threat of lawsuit by what appears to be a greedy out-of-town attorney seems to be a poor reason to work on districting.”

“We are a welcoming community, and everyone lives everywhere in Antioch,” she stated. “But, it appears that it will be fiscally prudent to consider districting.”

“The league supports…an independent commission…for the redistricting process. Geographic contiguity – no gerrymandering” Goralka said in outlining principles the group advised the council to follow. “Redistricting should not allow a goal of protecting incumbents.”

“Considering the economics this is something we should move forward on,” she continued. “It could benefit me as we don’t have anyone who lives” in the north part of the city on the council.

Council Discussion

Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe was the first council member to weigh in on the matter, sharing his support for the concept saying it was a campaign commitment.

He spoke of the council’s ad hoc committee on Quality of Life 2018 Ballot Measures, which he and Councilwoman Monica Wilson sit on, saying “this is something we had discussed, not necessarily whether or not to move forward, but it is something that we discussed.”

“It’s not because of a threat of lawsuit,” Thorpe continued. “When I ran…single member council districts was one of my top three priorities. I want to make that very clear. I see some added value. I’m doing this because I thought this was the right thing to do many, many years ago. I lived in a town in Maryland of 5,000 people and we had district elections. People who live right next door to you represented you. It didn’t mean that any of the elected representatives cared less about the rest of the city.

“I live in southeast Antioch and I care deeply about the downtown. I think we all care,” he added.

Councilman Tony Tiscareno shared his concerns, saying, “I’m quite torn about this. It has nothing to do with diversity. This council right here is pretty diverse. We’ve had a diverse council …even in the mid-90’s. So, I’m struggling to understand where this information came from that we are not a diverse community.”

“There isn’t a city in Contra Costa that has officially done this, yet. Some are going through the process,” he said, wanting to wait and see how other cities in the county handled the issue.

“This is catered more toward the lack of Latino votes,” Tiscareno continued. “For the life of me I don’t see this…it looks like we’re pursuing this because there is a threat of a lawsuit. That won’t deter me from doing what’s right for the city of Antioch. I’m not afraid of a lawsuit. If we look back in the 70’s or the 80’s maybe…but this city has doubled, and we’ve brought in different cultures and ethnicities.”

“There’s going to be Latinos without the opportunity to vote. That goes for the other races, as well. So, I’m struggling with this,” he said.

“If we’re going to do this because we’re facing a lawsuit, then I’m going to vote against it. I’m not only saying this as a Council Member, I’m saying this as a Latino,” Tiscareno stated firmly.

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock spoke in favor of the process saying, “I understand everyone’s point of view. Everyone should have their vote heard in the city. Should we do this because we’re threatened with a lawsuit? No. But I think it would be good to go through these meetings and hear what the people have to say. The town has changed. We’re very diverse. We’re a very diverse council. Whether or not everyone is being heard that’s the question.”

“I’m leaving my views open at this time until we go through the whole process. I believe the process is needed,” she concluded.

Wilson also supported the effort saying, “I too believe everybody’s voices should be heard. There are a lot of issues. I do feel some voices are not heard. Martha (Goralka), I do agree with you that people on the north side of town don’t have representation.”

“We need to control this and not have a lawsuit control this, rather than an attorney who doesn’t live in Antioch or live in our area,” she stated. She then advocated for having at least one of the public meetings on a Saturday.

City Clerk Arne Simonsen, as the city’s Elections Officer, offered his concerns with districting.

“This is something from the City Clerk’s Association since the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) was passed, it has several problems…We were successful in getting (legislation) passed that reduced the legal fees down to $30,000. Even in cities that said, ‘we don’t have a problem’ it cost them $3.5 million…and $2.8 million. No city has won.

He spoke of the challenges districting would have for the County Elections Office. “They have a March election, a June election and then a November election. So, they’re going to be tied up. The problem is they don’t have the people to do this.

“If we were to go and split a precinct, this is going to create a serious problem for getting this done,” Simonsen warned. “If you want to go ahead and do this for November, I am going to have to run a stand-alone election. Separate from the November ballot. So, people are going to get two ballots.

“I encourage the council to look at the cost of this to my office, with 1.5 full-time employees,” he added.

Wright then spoke passionately against the entire idea saying “I think this is going to be horrible for the city. I think it’s going to take us in a direction that’s going to divide us.”

“The last time we spent money on parks it was north of the freeway. The next time we spend money on parks it will be north of the freeway,” he said pointing out that in spite of no council member living on the north side of town, the council still voted to improve the parks there.

“When you represent 25% of the city you will naturally…care about the voters who actually vote for you…more than what the rest of the people want you to do,” Wright continued.

“It blows me away that this is done in the name of voting rights…for minority voters in a city where” Mary Rocha, Manny Soliz, Ralph Hernandez and Tony Tiscareno were elected,” he said naming some former and current Latino mayor and council members. “We’ve had an African American mayor (and) council members. We have a diverse voting bloc.

“This is so we can make sure minority voters can be heard in a city where minority voters are heard?” he asked in irony. “In Scott Rafferty’s own words, ‘districting sometimes reduces the strength of the people it’s intended to help.’ African Americans live all over this city. Our Latinos do the same.”

“I just don’t understand, other than that, now there is a financial gain for attorneys who throw letters around. Results don’t matter. The first one to the punch gets the money,” Wright stated. “And if the city stands up and says this is wrong you’re facing a potential $4 million price tag…when very few cities that have converted to single district voting have seen a significant increase in minority officeholders.”

“Now, I will probably vote tonight to move forward with this process to give us another 90 days…to try to not divide this city as much as possible. But, I’m going to reach out to our city attorney and see if there’s any way” to avoid districting, he said. “I just think this is horrible.”

The first public hearing will be held on Feb. 13 and the second on the 15th. The maps would be revealed during a third public hearing on a Saturday in March to be determined.

Ogorchock made the motion to approve the resolution to move forward on the districting process. But before the vote Tiscareno weighed in once more saying, “this will be more symbolic than anything. As a Latino who has lived in this community for over 47 years…the nature of our councils has been diverse for many, many years.”

“My ‘no’ vote will be symbolic, that Latinos do vote and care about our city,” he reiterated. “This isn’t something that’s demeaning to anyone in the city, this is something, whether it’s progress…this is something that the state is trending to. But if we have areas that aren’t represented…we need to make sure. But, if we’re going to make this into a racial thing, then I’m going to vote ‘no’ on this.”

Thorpe then attempted to break up the seriousness of the matter by sharing a concern in jest.

“I just want to say how disappointed in our city attorney about something he said in closed session and for something Mayor Wright said tonight,” Thorpe said sounding very serious.

“We have two Latinos on this city council. My mother and father came to this country from Mexico and Spanish was my first language,” he said with a laugh.

“I will add you to my list,” Wright responded with a smile.

The councilmembers then voted 4-1 with Tiscareno dissenting.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Dr, Jeffrey Klinger shared his thoughts.

“I want to express my appreciation on sharing your positions of going to district elections instead of at large,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion around it. Whichever direction the city goes we’re not going to be pushed around willy nilly by an attorney. My personal opinion is that I am well represented at large. Thank you for going on the record.”

General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan Updates Approved

In other action, the council voted unanimously to approve amendments to the city’s General Plan Land Use Element, as well as the Downtown Specific Plan. (See separate articles about those matters.)

Commercial Marijuana Ordinance

They also received a report from the city attorney on the progress of the development of an ordinance on commercial recreational marijuana uses in Antioch. The City will hire a consultant familiar with the cannabis industry to advise the council in the development of the ordinance. For now, all commercial uses including delivery of marijuana for recreational purposes are banned in town.

The Economic Development Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter at their meeting on Feb. 6 according to McCall.

To see the entire Council agenda packet, click here.

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14 Comments to “Antioch Council moves forward with district elections process, Tiscareno and Wright challenge need”

  1. Sherra says:

    I find it ridiculous how race enters into every single thing. Prove how any decision that was made by an Antioch board in the past that left a race out! Antioch has had diversity for a long while on it’s board and we finally got things going in the right direction for the city for once. The voters spoke! It also makes me sick how lawsuits are just thrown by anyone who chooses to around frivolously and are used to downright bankrupt people… Over What? A misperception that a certain race is being left out? Insanity.

  2. Marty Fernandez says:

    My wife and I support the stand taken by Mayor Wright. He spoke strongly and frankly we were impressed. Thank you to Lori and Tony also. We do not need districting and division in the city.

  3. Hilda Parham says:

    Being Latino, I call bull. We are not a class. I start with the caveat that I am speaking of American citizens of voting age, naturalized or native born. We are Americans, citizens of California, Contra Costa County, City of Antioch. We do not all live in one clump, in one area of Antioch. We are of every creed, varied in education from high school dropouts to multiple post Doctoral degrees, as well as self educated. We range from being politically non participating to being passionately active. We are parents and non parents. We are consumers of every financial category. If we are an under class or victimized it is by own individual doing. We have every opportunity to work our way up in society as we are willing to prepare ourselves and work for! As for dividing us imto districts. Just how is rhat to be din? Example, my block: corner, white caucasion family, house 2 Black family,house 3, me, hispanic female, house 4, hispanic family, house 5 Erithrian black immigrant family, house 6 , hispanic mother and daughter.
    Across the street from corner, Malaysian couple, house 2, White caucasian family, house 3 and end if block, large extended hispanic family. This threat of lawsuit is coercion!!!Off soap box

  4. Rjb says:

    Sorry but I don’t see diversity in the current and past council members. If they think that diversity means what is currently the city council, they are flat out wrong. All I see is a bunch of group thinkers that come from similar backgrounds and no representation for Asians. Do they really believe the Bay Area or even Antioch has no Asians in the population? And that this is their version of “diversity”? What s joke.

    Maybe focusing on districts will actually increase the quality of life for its residents and will make the other council members step up their game.

    • Publisher says:

      Rjb,
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      The issue for the threatened lawsuit is the dilution of the Latino vote, not Asian or any other minority in Antioch – with which, like Councilmember Tony Tiscareno, take issue.
      I’m rather surprised you don’t think having two African Americans and one Latino as council members out of a total of five is diverse from a racial standpoint, which is what the threatened lawsuit is unfortunately about. That’s in a city with a population, as of the 2010 Census, that is 16.7% African American, 31.7% Hispanic or Latino and 35.6% white. Asians only made up 10.7% of our population at that time and I don’t remember the last time an Asian American ran for mayor or city council in Antioch. Do you? If they don’t run how can they be elected?
      As for how the council members vote on issues, that is a different matter.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

      • Rjb says:

        Hi Allen

        I was simply taking into consideration the council’s definition of diversity. Race is not the only thing that constitutes diversity. Any college level class that deals with race relations and the concept of diversity in a group setting specifically defines the true meaning, race is only one of its parts. On the issue of not enough Asians well maybe we need an updated census? I would think that representation for all races despite marginalizing their population from outdated data would be prudent when the council’s job is to represent the people.

        • Publisher says:

          Rjb,
          Again, thanks for reading and commenting.
          It’s not the council’s definition of diversity that is at issue. It’s the California Voting Rights Act and the attorney’s claim who sent the letter, that Latinos in Anitoch are disadvantaged when it comes to voting and having fair representation. Both Mayor Wright and Councilman Tiscareno take issue with that, as do I having served with both Councilwoman and then Mayor Mary Rocha as well as Councilmen Ralph Hernandez and Manny Soliz during my four years on the council in the mid- to-late 90’s.
          Again, regarding Asian Americans not being represented, if there are no Asian American candidates who run then there won’t be one who can get elected, regardless of what their population is in our city.
          Allen Payton, Publisher

          • Rjb says:

            I think my post is similar to the crux of the issue. And breaking diversity barriers to to get more people to apply for any position or elected into office can only be achieved if it is pushed -just like how job postings that encourage women and minorities to apply are listed at companies who want diversity.

            Again, the definition of diversity from council is wrong. No we do not have a diverse council. Asians do make up a significant population of Antioch. Diversity cannot be achieved unless there is a clear path for it.

  5. C.S. says:

    When a city is in peril, leaders should be open to trying options instead of being combatant. It’s that same “we’re okay the way we are” attitude that exacerbated the city’s situation!

    Bringing up fears of gerrymandering is valid, but know that technology today are available which makes redistricting neutral … not that politicians will always agree with the software results.

    Those who are not happy should utilize the upcoming public hearings and present a compelling argument. Show up and speak then some!

    Cnclmn. Thorpe’s campaign promise was to bring this to the city, we voted him in so he can fulfill his vision for Antioch. Give him a chance, whether he arranged for Atty Rafferty to serve the “threatening” letter or not.

    • Sherra says:

      It is a logical fallacy to refer to technology results as neutral. First, it involves a human coming up with a program and a human deciding on what factors are important in an equation which are hardly neutral. Secondly, to bring a lawsuit one owns the burden of proving that there is a problem. Pure insanity.

      • Publisher says:

        Sherra,
        Thank you for reading the Herald and commenting.
        As the chairman of the county Citizens Redistricting Task Force in 2011, having testified before the Board of Supervisors and drawn maps for their redistricting process, as well as the drawn maps for Congressional, State Senate and State Assembly districts for the entire state, and testified before the CA Citizens Commission on Redistricting and watched many of the proceedings, I can tell you there are many different ways humans can use the technology, with all the various criteria, to create maps that can be manipulated for desired outcomes. In otherwords gerrymandering.

        That’s why we developed a list of common sense principles by which the districts should be drawn, such as equal population within 1% and compactness being the top two. Communities of interest, geographic boundaries were a few other principles or criteria we followed when creating maps. There are also criteria from Proposition 11 (See – https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_11,_Creation_of_the_California_Citizens_Redistricting_Commission_(2008).

        But, even with those principles we see the results of human special interests getting districts that serve either the incumbents or their own political ends. Just look at how our county was carved up into four different Congressional districts. San Ramon was carved out and separated from the rest the San Ramon Valley, Martinez, Pacheco, Crockett, Hercules and Pinole are in the same Congressional district as Napa (what do they have in common?), and Richmond is connected to the rest of the 11th Congressional District by two-lane Alhambra Valley Road and San Pablo Dam Road. Rep. DeSaulnier has to drive out of his district on Hwy 4 to get to the rest of it, unless he wishes to travel through the rural roads I mentioned.

        So, we need to ensure that the representatives don’t get to pick and choose who they will represent, but the other way around. That’s why people need to participate in the process of drawing the district lines. Check out the three alternative maps Martinez has proposed for their districting process. I posted about it on the AH Facebook page earlier, today.

        Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

        • Sherra says:

          I will check it out Allen.

          Some other things for people to consider is what is next? A demand for genetic testing to prove what and how much of a racial makeup we are in order to vote or get certain perks from the government? Is a human robot put on as a news anchor and now everyone believes it because it is a computer and considered neutral?

          These are not far fetched as the latter is something I just read and the former is within reach as more people are getting thier dna done via 23andme and ancestry.com.

  6. Julio says:

    I think Lamar was the prime target because of his stance during the election. I didn’t like it then. I do not want this city to become Oakland and San Francisco with politicians who care only for their district. That is what will happen here as that is the nature of the beast. That is precisely why nothing ever gets done in any city with districting. We must also retain a 4 year mayor as that is the only way to get things properly represented in the area as well as county. Continuity of a 4 year mayor gets the most done.

  7. me says:

    And the City will be paying for these district elections because the County doesn’t have the money or staff to do them.

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