As part of its ongoing transition to district-based elections, the Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night had its first chance to eliminate potential district maps, and the governing body wasted little time.
The council hosted its fourth public hearing on district-based elections since beginning the transition process Sept. 5. After hearing comments from a few members of the public and having a brief discussion, the council quickly excluded eight of the 11 submitted maps, including the map that had drawn the most support from community members at the two most recent public hearings.
While the council unanimously agreed to remove maps 106, 107, 110 and 111 -- all of which can be viewed at drawlompoc.org/draft-maps/ -- from consideration, the next four cuts were more contentious. Maps 101, 102, 103 and 104 all contained districts in which two current council members presently reside. Moving forward with those maps would effectively prevent a current council member from seeking re-election, which led Councilman Jim Mosby to suggest that all four should be removed since he felt they went against the will of the voting public.
Mosby’s suggestion was ultimately approved on two separate 3-2 votes, getting support from Councilmen Victor Vega and Dirk Starbuck. Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne each voted against the move to cut those four. Osborne specifically cited the strong public support for Map 101 when she explained her reasoning for voting against the motion.
“I think it’s unfair to eliminate 101 this round because of the number of individuals that have shown up in support of that,” she said.
Map 101 was the preferred choice by five of six public speakers Nov. 7 at the third public hearing, which was the first time the maps were made available for comment and consideration. The map was supported again by some of those speakers Tuesday, either via public comment or through emails that were made public at the meeting.
Among the supporters of Map 101 were Erica Cortez Anguiano and Sarah Salcedo, the two women who threatened the litigation that got the whole process started. Their initial complaint with the current at-large election system, a complaint that has led to transitions to district-based elections throughout the state, was that it violated the Voting Rights Act and stifled the voting impact of minorities, particularly Latinos.
Map 101 was the lone map to feature two separate districts with majority Hispanic populations. Those districts, as drawn, had voting-age Hispanic populations of 51 percent and 47 percent.
Mosby said Tuesday that he had discussed the process with some of his Latino friends — he said that about 1,000 Latinos have used his recreation fields over the past decade — and that his reticence to switch district-based elections, as well as his opposition to some of the potential maps, was based at least in part on those conversations.
“I asked them what they thought and they wanted to know why they wouldn’t be able to vote for me anymore, and why they couldn’t be represented in that way,” Mosby said of those constituents. “They were very offended by the fact that it was being drawn up (this way) and they wouldn’t be allowed to have that opportunity.”
Further, Mosby said that approving districts that have multiple sitting council members — four such maps had that issue, including Map 101, which had a district that included the homes of Osborne and Vega — would be going against the “will of the voters.”
“The maps that don’t respect (voters’) wishes and continuity of office, I think those maps should be eliminated,” he said.
Osborne said she felt like the current council members shouldn’t be heavily influenced by how the districts would affect the current council.
“I really need to hear from the public, because I fear gerrymandering to protect our seats,” she said.
She went on to state that the moves might not meet the federal definition of gerrymandering but said that eliminating all the maps that could potentially break up the current council “feels a bit like localized gerrymandering and protecting our seats, and that’s not what I’m here for.”
Members of the public can still submit maps through Nov. 27 to be considered at the fifth public hearing, which is scheduled to take place at the Dec. 5 City Council meeting. Maps can be drawn and submitted, as well as viewed, at www.drawlompoc.org.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, the council will review the three remaining maps — Maps 105, 108 and 109 — as well as any new maps that are presented. The group will also have the chance at that meeting to formally approve a map to be utilized for the November 2018 election.
In other action Tuesday, the council accepted a report from the city’s legal team that suggested that outgoing City Manager Patrick Wiemiller and the city’s finance department did not violate any state laws or city policies regarding the use of the city’s reserves and emergency funds.
The investigation was initially requested by Mosby on Aug. 22. The issue centered on fluctuations within the city’s $2 million reserve fund, which Mosby said he believed could only be touched with council approval.
City administrators had acknowledged moving funds to and from the emergency account under the belief that the account needed only to be at the $2 million level at the end of each fiscal year.
The city’s legal team investigated the issue and determined, per its report, that “if a court were asked to decide whether the city has violated any policy relating to use of the (Economic Uncertainty) Fund, our opinion is the court would find there has been no violation.”
Additionally, the council agreed to close City Hall for the entire week of Christmas — Dec. 25 through 29 — and to cancel the regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Jan. 2. The decision to close City Hall, which was suggested as a cost-saving move, was made on the condition, first suggested by Mosby, that utility bill payments be given a penalty-free grace period during that time.
In closed session prior to the meeting, the council also formally accepted Wiemiller’s resignation, effective Jan. 5. Wiemiller initially announced his intention to resign and accept a position as assistant city manager in Santa Maria on Nov. 9.
It was announced by City Attorney Joe Pannone on Tuesday that the council, in closed session, agreed to give direction for city staff to hire a consulting firm to begin a “nationwide search” for the next city manager and to conduct internal reviews to determine an interim city manager if needed.
The next meeting of the Lompoc City Council is slated for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.