The Santa Maria City Council officially completed the process Tuesday to create election districts in the city by formally adopting an ordinance making the boundaries law.
The City Council also recognized a longtime former member by naming a park after him during the meeting at City Hall.
In a 4-1 vote, the council adopted Ordinance No. 2017-06, which amends the city’s municipal code by formally dumping its at-large election system and adopting a by-district system.
City leaders introduced the ordinance at its May 2 meeting by selecting one election district map after the council considered 16 other options.
Councilman Michael Moats was the lone dissenter, as he was during the May 2 meeting.
“We have met all the statutory requirements. We’ve done all the public hearings, (and) now we will be providing all of the information to the county board of elections in anticipation of the 2018 ballot,” Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon said after Tuesday’s meeting.
About a month after coming in fourth in the race for two open City Council seats, Hector Sanchez, via a letter sent by Santa Barbara-based attorney Jason Dominguez, claimed the Nov. 8 election was racially “polarized” and violated the California Voting Rights Act.
Sanchez was one of six candidates vying for the two seats. With the city’s at-large voting system, the two highest vote winners -- Mike Cordero and Moats -- won the two open seats. Former City Councilwoman Terri Zuniga rounded out the top four vote winners on Election Day.
In his letter sent Dec. 16, 2016, Sanchez demanded that the city change its election structure to a district-based system or he would sue the city.
The California Voting Rights Act which was amended last year, made the process of defending at-large election systems in court harder and costly for municipalities, city leaders said. The city of Santa Maria voted to meet Sanchez’s demands because of the potential costs involved.
The California Voting Rights Act also gives Sanchez’s attorney the ability to charge the city up to $30,000 in legal fees, associated with Sanchez’s claim. The city has not received that bill yet.
Haydon said after the city receives that bill, the process to create election districts in the city of Santa Maria will cost the city about $70,000.
“You are not going to make everybody happy as far as the maps were drawn,” Haydon said.
At each of the public meetings the City Council held on the subject, it heard from many people, including representatives from Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE).
On Tuesday night, Abraham Melendrez, CAUSE community organizer, spoke out against the city’s chosen election district map saying it was an effort to protect the current City Council members' seats and did not provide the representation he said the city needs.
“It takes away from the Latino, low-income neighborhoods on the west side, which by the way are the majority of Santa Maria, when you put them next to wealthier, more educated communities,” Melendrez said.
The election map divides the city into four election districts starting at the intersection of Broadway and Main streets. The division starts at the city’s center, though Districts 1 and 2 share portions of the city’s northwest quadrant and Districts 2 and 4 share parts of the northeast quadrant.
The newly formed District 4 stretches from the Orcutt border, past Marian Regional Medical Center to the Santa Maria River levee.
District 3 now reaches from the Santa Maria Public Airport to about Main Street at the west side of Broadway.
Incumbent Councilman Jack Boysen resides in District 3, and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield lives in District 4. Those districts will be the first to be impacted by the new election system in 2018.
Moats and Boysen both reside in District 3, meaning the boundary lives will change the makeup of the council in the future, depending on what happens leading up to the next election.
Haydon said the city has not received any other legal threats and that he believes that the council’s decision will stand up to any future challenges.
The main factor in drawing election districts is the population of city residents: Boundary lines will have to be redrawn after the next U.S. Census and every 10 years after that.
Also on Tuesday, the council honored longtime former member Bob Orach by changing the name of Westgate Ranch Park to Bob Orach Park.
Orach was active in youth sports in the city when he and his family first moved to Santa Maria, and he soon became a member of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission before serving 30 years as a member of the Santa Maria City Council.
“I never thought when I came to town 40-some years ago, that this would happen and I’d be able to stand here,” Orach said Tuesday night.