AT A GLANCE
- The City of Vista has changed the way city council representatives are elected and has switched from an at-large election to a district-based election system.
- Beginning in 2018, the City’s new by-district election system divides the city into four geographic sections.
- Voters in each district select one council representative who also lives in that district.
- The mayor will continue to be elected at-large by the voters of Vista.
How will by-district elections work?
The district elections will be phased in beginning November 2018, when representatives from Council Districts 1 and 4 will be elected. Two years later, in 2020, council members from Districts 2 and 3 will be on the ballot. To be elected, a candidate must live within the boundary of the district that they seek to represent. Voters will only vote for the City Council seats up for election in their specific district. All four current Council Members are serving as at-large council members until the end of their current terms. They will then be eligible to run for re-election in the district in which they live.
- District 1: John Aguilera, November, 2018
- District 2: Joe Green, November, 2020
- District 3: Amanda Young Rigby, November, 2020
- District 4: John Franklin, November, 2018
On February 13, 2017, the City of Vista received a letter from the Malibu law firm Shenkman & Hughes claiming the city was violating the California Voting Rights Act Elec. Code §§ 14025-14032 because Council members were elected at-large rather than by districts. Under threat of the expensive lawsuit claiming the city’s at-large election process was not representative, the City Council voted to save tax payer dollars, avoid costly litigation, and take advantage of a legal protection that enabled cities to have a say in creating their district boundaries. On March 28, 2017, the Vista City Council voted to voluntarily move to a new by-district election system. On June 13, 2017, the City Council adopted an ordinance establishing and implementing by-district elections and a map setting the boundaries for the four districts.
What is the basis of the lawsuit against the city?
The law firm contends the City of Vista’s at-large voting system “dilutes the ability of Latinos, (‘a protected class’), to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Vista’s council elections.” The letter cites instances where Latino candidates ran unsuccessfully for City Council yet received “significant support” from Latino voters. The letter states that Latinos represent about 48.4 percent of Vista’s population.
Why haven’t cities prevailed in challenging the allegations?
Dozens of cities in California have faced similar challenges in recent years, including the cities of Escondido, San Marcos, Oceanside, and Carlsbad. Cities have either voluntarily or been forced to adopt changes to their method of electing city council members. Many have settled claims out of court by agreeing to voluntarily shift to district elections. To date, no public agency that has fought a lawsuit has prevailed, with some paying legal fees in the millions.
What Have Other Cities Done?
Almost without exception other cities have either voluntarily, or been forced to adopt changes to their method of electing City Council members. Many have settled claims out of court by essentially agreeing to voluntarily shift to district elections. Others have defended challenges through the courts. Those agencies that attempted to defend their existing “at large” system of elections in court have incurred significant legal costs because the California Voting Rights Act gives plaintiffs the right to recover attorney fees. A few examples include:
- Palmdale: $4.5 million
- Modesto: $3 million
- Anaheim: $1.1 million
- Whittier: $1 million
- Santa Barbara: $600,000
- Merced City: $42,000
How were the four districts drawn? Under the California Voting Rights Act, districts must:
- Include communities of interest and be compact and contiguous
- Have visible (natural and man‐made) boundaries
- Include respect for past voter selections
- Plan for future growth
What's the difference between "at large" elections and "district" elections?
In an at-large election system voters of the entire city elect all members of the City Council. a by-district systems divides the city into geographic sections. Voters in each district select one Council representative, who must live in that district.
What is a protected class?
A protected class refers to voters who are members of a race, color or language minority group.
Who created the district boundaries?
The City hired National Demographics Corporation, to draw district maps for consideration according to the requirements of the Federal Voting Rights Act and California Voting Rights Act. The public provided input on the maps and had the opportunity to submit their own maps for review. The City Council adopted a district boundary map on June 13, 2017.
How was the public involved in choosing districts?
The City of Vista hosted eight community forums and public hearings/public meetings throughout March-June 2017. Residents either individually or through a collaboration used the public map-drawing tools provided by the city's professional demographer to created their own maps for submission and review.
How was the change approved?
The Vista City Council agreed to switch from an at-large election system to a by-district election system via a resolution passed by the City Council on March 28, 2017. On June 13, 2017, the City Council adopted an ordinance establishing and implementing by-district elections and a map setting the boundaries for each of the four districts.