Archive for the ‘Politics & Elections’ Category

Not all residents happy with council dividing Antioch into four election districts, “not a done deal”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

How should the City Council divide Antioch into four equal districts? Create your own map and offer your input now through April 10.

Next hearing Thursday night, Feb. 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Antioch Community Center in Prewett Park

By John Crowder

The City of Antioch held it’s first of two public hearings on Districting on Tuesday, February 13 and not all residents are happy about it. Districting is the process that may result in changing from the current system of at-large elections for city council members to one in which representatives are elected from four districts, by voters who live in each district. (See related articles, here and here).

When the agenda item was reached, late in the meeting, Interim Antioch City Attorney Derek Cole explained the process

According to Cole, it was the first of five meetings the City would undertake as part of the process to convert from at-large elections of City Council members to elections held by District. However, the mayor would still be elected citywide under the new system. Cole introduced Karin MacDonald, Principal Consultant of Q2 Data and Research, the consulting firm tasked with leading the districting process for the city. Q2 was the same firm selected as the consultant to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission for the statewide decennial effort in 2011.

MacDonald provided a slide presentation explaining the districting process.  As she explained, the 2001 California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) made it easier for members of a protected class to prove that at-large elections ‘dilute’ their voting strength.  In November 2017, the Council received a ‘demand letter’ asserting a violation under the CVRA.  As a result, in January 2018, the Council passed a resolution of intent to move from at-large to by-district elections.

According to MacDonald, the strict timeline and constraints imposed by the CVRA require the entire process be completed in 90 days, that five hearings take place, and that two of these hearings occur prior to creating a draft map.  At the final hearing, the Council can adopt the Council District Boundaries.

Besides explaining the process, the February 13 hearing would serve as the first of two hearings designed to gather community input.  The second will take place on February 15, at 7:00 pm, at the Prewett Community Center.

The third meeting is scheduled for March 10, at 9:00 am at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center.  During that meeeting, consultants will present the input received and outline draft maps and options.  The Council will be able to create a draft map during the meeting.  The draft map will be available for comment online and elsewhere around March 12.

The final two meetings will be held on March 27 and April 10, both at 7:00 pm in the City Hall Council Chambers.  At these hearings the ordinance will be read.  At the final hearing, it is anticipated that a vote will take place on the ordinance.

MacDonald noted that there are five criteria used for drawing districts; equal population, compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA), contiguity, compactness, and respect for communities of interest.  Not to be considered are incumbents, candidates, and political parties.  Elections could be undertaken by districts as early as November 2018.

During the hearing, a handful of speakers weighed in, some supporting and some opposing the idea of district elections.

Nancy Fernandez, the first speaker, stated her opposition to district elections.  “They don’t function because each council member is trying to please his voting constituents and not doing the business of the city as a whole,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Jim Conley also spoke in opposition.  After stating that Antioch has a diverse community and a diverse city council, he said that districting makes council members very parochial and leads to backroom deals being done.  “The City doesn’t matter,” he said, “It’s your district that matters.”

Planning Commissioner Kerry Motts expressed support for district elections.  He said that districts have worked elsewhere and will solve a major problem of underrepresentation in the northern part of Antioch.

Two members of the East County Regional Group spoke in favor of district elections.  They argued that district elections would make running for office more accessible, and asked that the number of immigrants, low-income, families, and people of color be considered in forming districts.

Representing the Rivertown Preservation Society, Joy Motts also spoke in favor of district elections.  She said that members of the Rivertown community do not feel they are represented or listened to and said that the creation of a path for a North Rivertown representative should be a priority.  She dismissed the idea that elected officials would be parochial, saying, “Quality leaders will work together.”

The last to speak from the public was long-time resident Larry Harrison.  Calling the move to district elections, “utter nonsense,” he said that it was, “a solution without a problem.”  He advocated banding together with other cities that oppose moving to district elections and working to overturn the law that was forcing the change.

During Council discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe began by saying, “This is not a done deal.”  He went on to say that, while the Antioch City Council is diverse, other elected offices must be considered, and other factors besides race should be taken into account.  (Mac Donald responded that race could not be considered in drawing districts.)  Thorpe also said that the process had created more competitive elections in other electoral races.

Council Member Tony Tiscareno noted that the demand letter was based on lack of Latino representation, yet, “we have Latino’s living throughout the city.”  He also raised the concern that data from the 2010 census would be used to draw the maps.  “Right now, it’s very confusing to me,” he said.

Mayor Sean Wright agreed with Tiscareno that the process, and the premise behind it, were confusing.  “The confusion for all of us, is that we’re threatened because we’re ‘racially polarized.’  It just does not make sense,” he said.

Council Member Lori Ogorchock expressed concern with the lack of attendance.  “There’s maybe forty people here,” she said.  “We really need to hear everybody’s point of view.  We want everybody to have their voices heard.”  She encouraged those present to share information with their neighbors.

Following the hearing, the lead consultant, Ms. MacDonald, emphasized the need for as much public input as possible to create, “lines that will work.”  She asked that City residents go to the City Website and to the Districting page, http://districtelections.ci.antioch.ca.us/, and share their comments and even create their own draft maps using the interactive city map.

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Supervisors OK $6.75 million purchase of new county voting system

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Supervisors honor County Auditor-Controller Robert Campbell for his 30 years of service. Shown are from left: District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover, Chairperson and District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, Campbell, District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen and Vice Chairperson and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia. Photo by Daniel Borsuk

By Daniel Borsuk

With scant protest, Contra Costa County Supervisors unanimously approved Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla’s request Tuesday to replace the county’s aging ES&S voting system with a system made by Dominion Democracy Voting Systems, Inc.

Courtesy of Dominion Democracy Voting Systems, Inc.

The new voting system, the Democracy Suite System made by Dominion will be delivered in time for the special March election for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and will be widely put into service for the June gubernatorial election, Canciamilla said.

The county has used the ES&S voting system since 2005.

Supervisors, particularly Chairperson Karen Mitchoff and District 4 Supervisor Candace Andersen, said they had received several emails from citizens questioning the fiscal validity of acquiring a new voting system in an era of election system security vulnerability.

Andersen wanted to know why the county did not put out a request for proposal (RFP), and Scott Konopasek, assistant county registrar, answered that the Secretary of State has to certify voting equipment suppliers.  There are few voting equipment suppliers that meet rigid state requirements.  It happens that both Dominion Democracy Voting Systems and ES&S are voting equipment suppliers the Secretary of State has certified and an RFP is unnecessary.

But in the county’s evaluation, Dominion Democracy took top honors, said Konopasek.

In evaluating the Dominion Democracy and ES&S systems, Dominion Democracy came out on top with a score of 39 points out of 60 possible points.  Dominion Democracy scored highest, especially in the areas of integrated software, ballot marking device, central count equipment and precinct count system.  ES&S did not prevail in any of the 11 evaluation categories.

Canciamilla told supervisors that the Office of the Clerk-Recorder has $4.7 million to pay Dominion Democracy Voting Systems.  Beginning in the second year of the contract, the office will pay $360,000 a year for six years to cover maintenance and licensing costs, Konopasek explained.

Canciamilla said the current ES&S system is rapidly deteriorating to the point that it needs to be replaced, especially now that elections will need to accommodate three languages: English, Spanish, and, starting this year, Chinese.  Furthermore, ballots are bulkier with more ballot measures.

In this era of national inquiry about Russian meddling in our elections, Konospasek said the Dominion Democracy Voting Systems passes the cyber security test.

Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood questioned the vulnerability of the Dominion Democracy Voting System to cyber security threats.

“We have always had great security” Canciamilla said.  “We have designated a person to manage our security.”

Voters will see no difference.  They will continue to receive and fill-in-the-bubble ballots that will be tabulated by digital imaging.  Poll workers will also see no difference with the new voting machines.

Before supervisors voted on the request to acquire the Dominion Democracy system, Canciamilla informed supervisors that he plans to eventually present a request to the board for the county to spend about $14 million to restore 3 million historic documents and 20 million maps that are now housed in inadequate storage.  Canciamilla did not state when he will present this request or how he plans to fund the request.

“We are excited to be bringing in this new equipment that will make our operation more cost effective and reliable and ensure a secure, accessible and transparent process,” said Canciamilla.

Supervisors Authorize Agricultural Planning Hearings

At the request of District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood, supervisors voted 5-0 to authorize the Conservation and Development Department to conduct meetings with farmers and residents with agricultural interests to assist the county in a policy review and the creation of new ideas to promote an “incentive” for agricultural sustainability and economic vitality in Contra Costa County.

The county has $150,000 to spend on agricultural planning, John Kopchick, chief of the Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development told supervisors.  He suggested that the department conduct a series of forums where 15 to 20 persons per forum can express ideas ranging from agricultural tourism to bed and breakfast establishments.

“How does cannabis get involved in this?” asked Board Chairperson Mitchoff.

“Cannabis is a background topic,” answered Kopchiick because the county does not yet have a marijuana ordinance on the books.

The department plans to conduct its first forum in April.

County Auditor-Controller Campbell Honored

The Supervisors also gave special recognition to the county’s elected Auditor-Controller Robert Campbell for his 30 years of service to the county on Tuesday.

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Contra Costa election materials will now be in three languages

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Contra Costa County voters will see an additional language on their voting materials starting this year, as the Contra Costa Elections Division adds Chinese to the current English and Spanish. This means that the official ballot and Voter Information Guide will appear in all three languages.

Voters in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the Diablo Community Services District have a special vote-by-mail election on March 6 and will be the first to see the trilingual materials when they receive their ballots in the mail next week. incorporation of Chinese will appear on all voting materials beginning in June.

Written material will be in traditional Chinese and the Elections Division will provide audio language assistance in Cantonese and Mandarin.

The addition of Chinese comes as a result of the county’s population growth and corresponding shift in demographics. As the population changes, so do the language needs of local voters. When 10,000 voters or 5 percent of the county’s voting age citizens speak a specific language, the Federal Voting Rights Act requires that language be included on all election materials. At the end of 2016, the Department of Justice informed us that we crossed that threshold for Chinese.

“We look forward to meeting the needs of all of our voters,” said Joe Canciamilla, Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters.

The Contra Costa Elections Division continues to engage with local community groups to ensure language access for all voters. For more information, visit our website at www.cocovote.us.

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Entries accepted for the 2018 County Elections Photo Contest through Feb. 28

Monday, January 29th, 2018

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

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

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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Antioch Council to consider changing to district elections Tuesday in light of threatened lawsuit

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

One of the graphs in the attorney’s letter showing the distribution of votes by Latino residents of Antioch in the 2016 City Council election, supporting his argument of racially polarized voting in the city.

Attorney claims current system “dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice”; offers Evidence of Racially Polarized Voting in Antioch

By Allen Payton

At their Tuesday night Jan. 23 meeting, the Antioch City Council will vote to give their intent to convert from at-large to district elections beginning this November. The action is in response to a letter from a Walnut Creek attorney Scott J. Rafferty threatening a lawsuit if the council doesn’t make the change.

The current system of at-large elections means each City Councilmember is elected by the registered voters of the entire City. District elections in Antioch will result in dividing the city into four equal sections by population, and only those who want to run to represent the specific district must live in that part of town. With Antioch having an elected mayor, that position will still be elected city wide.

According to the staff report, in his letter received on November 17, 2017 Rafferty “asserts that the City’s at-large electoral system dilutes the ability of Latinos (a protected class) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Antioch council elections.” He thus asserts “that the City’s at-large council member electoral system violates the California Voting Rights Act” (CVRA).”

Rafferty, representing the Bay Area Voting Rights Initiative (BAVRI), explained the background for his letter, in which he wrote, “In 2001, the Legislature determined that the use of at-large elections (by cities and districts that are characterized by racially polarized voting) dilutes the influence of minority voting blocks.”

Yet, the City has elected Latinos to the Antioch City Council, for over 25 years, including former Mayor Mary Rocha, former Mayor Pro Tem Manny Soliz, former Councilman Ralph Hernandez and current Councilman Tony Tiscareno.

Offers Evidence of Racially Polarized Voting

However, Rafferty offered some statistics and graphs demonstrating how each candidate for Antioch Mayor and City Council in 2016 did better among voters of their same Race. His report states, “the 2016 election results shows [sic] that, with very few exceptions, every white candidate did better the fewer minority voters were in the precinct. Similarly, African American candidates fared far better in the communities with the largest number of black voters. The Latina candidate (referring to Rocha who unsuccessfully ran for re-election) had a marked advantage in the Latino precincts. At the precinct level, there is substantial evidence that Antioch voters disproportionately vote for candidates of their own race.”

Then Rafferty offered details about specific candidates, writing, “For every one percent black voters increased in a precinct, Lamar Thorpe’s margin increased .57%. In Latino precincts, Mary Rocha got .37% greater margin for each added one percent Latino voters. (Ken) Turnage’s lead in non-minority precincts increased .67% for each additional percentage of voters who were white.”

He provides further “Evidence of Racially Polarized Voting” in his letter, which can be viewed, here: Rafferty Letter re Antioch District Elections

Other Benefits of District Elections

Rafferty argues that even if there isn’t racially polarized voting, there are other benefits to district elections. “Single member districts reduce the cost of elections, both to candidates and to the city. Districting will substantially reduce the entry costs of running for office,” he writes.

Arguments Against Districting

Then he argues against district elections writing, “Districting sometimes reduces the electoral strength of the very groups that it is designed to help. If Latinos do vote as a bloc, and comprise 15% of voters, they may exercise…decisive influence in the election of every member. Relatively few cities that have converted to single member districts have seen a significant increase in minority office holders. The greatest risk is that there will be no qualified candidate willing to stand for election in a new district. In such a case, the remaining members appoint, which completely disenfranchises voters in the new ‘minority’ district.”

Rafferty further writes that, “Districting can also force the community to choose among incumbents or other well-qualified candidates, when all could have been elected in the at-large system. The transition sequence may also have adverse effects. In a staggered system, the incumbents serve out their term. In the first election, the districts with the largest minority populations generally choose district members first.” He cites Elections Code Section 10010(b) which states “sequence must consider purposes of CVRA and preference by members (residents?) of the districts.”

He concludes that “Although the incumbents in Antioch are not closely clustered, none inhabits the high-minority area (assuming the registrar’s precinct racial data is accurate)” and that “It is extremely  likely that a formal analysis will confirm that Antioch experiences racially polarized voting, which dilutes the electoral influence of the city’s protected racial and language groups,  particularly Latinos.”

Could Affect Current Incumbents Up for Reelection This Year

The proposed resolution for the Council’s consideration states, “the adoption of a district-based elections system will not affect the terms of any sitting Council Member, each of whom will serve out his or her current term.” However, both Tiscareno and Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock are up for election in November. If they both reside in the same district, they would have to face each other in the election. But, if either of them live in the same district as either Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe or Councilwoman Monica Wilson, or both, they could not run this year, as there will be no election held in those districts. The other option for Tiscareno or Ogorchock is to move into one of the districts that are up for election.

Other cities in the county have been targets of similar threats from Rafferty and an attorney from Southern California, including Martinez and Concord. That latter city voted earlier this month to change to district elections, to also avoid a lawsuit.

The California Legislature in amendments to Elections Code Section 10010, has provided a method whereby a jurisdiction can quickly change to a by-district election system and avoid the high cost of litigation under the CVRA, known as a “safe harbor” from such lawsuits.

So, on January 9, 2018, the City Council met in Closed Session to consider the threatened CVRA litigation and, after weighing the legal implications and potential costs of such litigation, and without admitting the validity of the contentions raised in Rafferty’s letter, directed the City Attorney to move forward with the resolution of intent to transition from at-large to district-based elections. The action is in compliance with a 45-day deadline (and a 30-day extension) in order to take advantage of the “safe harbor” allowances under state law. Under this “safe harbor,” the City is required to hold five public hearings within an additional 90-day period. The hearings will offer Antioch residents the opportunity to make comments to the Council on the composition of the districts and to provide input regarding the content of the draft maps and the proposed sequence of elections. The final public hearing will be when the Council votes to consider an ordinance establishing district-based elections. The Council will decide at Tuesday’s meeting when they will hold those public hearings.

If the council approves the change to district elections the city will have to pay up to $30,000 to Rafferty for his fees and costs, as well as pay a demographer and possibly other consultants. Otherwise the City could face the “extraordinary cost” of defending against a CVRA lawsuit and risk “losing such a lawsuit which would require the City to pay the prevailing plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.

Public Will Get To See Maps, First

However, the resolution includes a provision for the public to see the proposed map of the districts, first stating, “before the City Council’s consideration of an ordinance to establish district boundaries for a district-based electoral system, California Elections Code Section 10010 requires all of the following:

  1. Prior to drawing a draft map or maps of the proposed boundaries of the districts, the City shall hold at least two public hearings over a period of no more than 30 days, at which the public will be invited to provide input regarding the composition of the districts;
  2. After all draft maps are drawn, the City shall publish and make available for release at least one draft map and, if members of the City Council will be elected in their districts at different times to provide for staggered terms of office, the potential sequence of the elections shall also be published. The City Council shall also hold at least two additional hearings over a period of no more than 45 days, at which the public shall be invited to provide input regarding the content of the draft map or maps and the proposed sequence of elections, if applicable. The first version of a draft map shall be published at least seven days before consideration at a hearing. If a draft map is revised at or following a hearing, it shall be published and made available to the public for at least seven days before being adopted.”

The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 W. 2nd Street in historic, downtown Rivertown or can be viewed on local cable channel 24, or via the City’s website by clicking here.

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Progressive prosecutor Patrick Vanier drops out of DA’s race backs Becton

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Patrick Vanier. Herald file photo

Today, Friday, January 12, 2018, Patrick Vanier, Supervising Prosecutor in Santa Clara County, and a candidate for Contra Costa County District Attorney issued the following statement:

“When I announced my candidacy for District Attorney last spring, I made it clear that my candidacy was not about me, but about bringing real reform to the office of District Attorney and instituting best practices to bring Contra Costa County’s criminal justice system into the 21st Century.  I was the first to declare my candidacy to challenge former DA Mark Peterson and I am proud to have started the dialogue for change.

A little more than a month later, Mark Peterson resigned from office.  Upon his resignation, the County initiated an appointment process to fill the vacancy. I was honored to be selected by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors as a finalist in that process.

During the appointment process in the summer and fall, I again made it clear that if a person was appointed who can bring progressive leadership to the office of District Attorney and will modernize and standardize how cases are prosecuted, I may not seek election.

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors voted to appoint retired Judge Diana Becton to be District Attorney. (See related article) Although I was disappointed in not receiving the appointment, I respected the Supervisors’ decision as they recognized the importance of selecting a candidate from outside the dysfunction of the current office. While I was in this race to win, as I felt that I possess the skills this County needs, I also realize the importance of ensuring that change does indeed occur.

Over the past several months I have been following the developments within the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Diana Becton.  I believe she has undertaken a course of action to run the department in an honest and ethical manner and will utilize the latest technologies, data analytics, and community prosecution models to prevent crime and prosecute cases. I want this County to be focused on ensuring that change continues.

For these reasons, I have decided to withdraw from the race for Contra Costa County District Attorney and fully support and endorse Diana Becton.

I want to thank my supporters for their unflagging support and encouragement and I will be urging them to support Diana Becton.”

On his campaign website, Vanier said he offered “progressive leadership” to the people of Contra Costa County. With him out of the race the remaining candidates, currently are the appointed incumbent, Interim Contra Costa DA Becton and Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves, who entered the race last spring to take on Peterson, prior to his resignation and has the support of most law enforcement organizations in the county. If no other candidates enter the race the winner of the Primary Election in June will be elected. According to the County Elections Office website, the filing period for the election begins February 12 and ends March 9.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Interim Contra Costa District Attorney Becton announces she will run in next year’s election

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Board of Supervisors Chairman Federal Glover with Interim D.A. Diana Becton following her oath of office ceremony on Sept. 18, 2017. Photo by David Fraser, Office of Supervisor Federal Glover

Today, Wednesday, December 6, 2017, District Attorney Diana Becton issued the following statement:

“It’s official: today, I filed my papers to run for District Attorney of Contra Costa County.

“I was selected as District Attorney by the Board of Supervisors to restore faith and trust in the District Attorney’s Office in the wake of scandal. I have rolled up my sleeves and I am hard at work. I am committing to restoring integrity to the office. I am confident that I will succeed. I am a collaborative leader who knows how to get things done.

“We cannot continue to look at the criminal justice system in a vacuum. We need a broad, universal approach to how we prevent crime, make our communities safe, and treat everyone fairly.

“As a longtime judge of the Superior Court in Contra Costa County, I am proud of my reputation for hard work, fairness, and integrity. I will bring these qualities to the campaign trail – and to the job.”

In September, Becton was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to fill the position made vacant by the resignation of Mark Peterson. She joins Contra Costa County Senior Assistant District Attorney Paul Graves and Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier who announced their campaigns and entered the race prior to Peterson’s resignation. The Primary Election will be held June 4, 2018. If no candidate receives a majority of vote, the top two candidates will face off in the General Election in November.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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