Council Accedes to Demands, Will Move toward District Elections in November 2020

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs discusses his thoughts on district elections and this process on Tuesday night

The city council on Tuesday made it clear that they did not like the tactics of former Supervisor Matt Rexroad, but they also made it clear that they had no choice, given the state of the law in California.

The council voted unanimously to approve a Resolution of Intent to Transition from At-Large to District-Based City Council Elections with the tentative schedule that has been laid out.  They also authorized City Manager Mike Webb to enter into a contract with a demographer to assist in the drawing of boundaries.

In a separate motion, they voted to have the city attorney prepare an ordinance that would change the elections from March (or June) to November, starting in November 2020.  That vote was not binding – meaning that the city could change course, but that seems unlikely.

City Attorney Inder Khalasa, responding to a question from Councilmember Dan Carson, made it clear that the city would risk serious financial consequences should they challenge Mr. Rexroad on this.

“The decision to transition to district elections and then hold the election at-large in 2020 – Mr. Rexroad has indicated he would challenge that and bring a lawsuit against the city,” she said.

In his July 25 letter to the city (published here), Mr. Rexroad wrote: “We hereby reiterate our demand that Davis change its election system to a district-based election system in time for the 2020 elections.”  He added, “Our clients, and the protected classes they represent, should not have to suffer harm from another election under an unlawful system.”

He further charged, “Because the ability to bring Davis into compliance with state law is so feasible, we believe that any other decision by the city council would demonstrate a callous indifference to the CVRA and the critical interests that it is meant to protect.”

Reacting to the council decision, Matt Rexroad told the Vanguard, “Tonight the Davis City Council unanimously voted to follow state law.  They also indicated a desire to have more participation in their municipal elections.  That is good for democracy and good for Davis.”

However, the council clearly resented being forced to take this approach – though a number of councilmembers felt it was the right thing to do regardless.

Gloria Partida, reading from prepared remarks said, “I’m not a fan of people with hidden agendas using hard-won paths to level real inequity to further those agendas.”

She said, “It may be that political representation is a legitimate concern for our city and that people have been hurt by our current process.  But the current process being unwinnable and costly as it is, robs our community of exploring and rectifying this problem in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

Mayor Pro Tem Partida argued that this system would not benefit racial and ethnic minorities and, while there are precincts with heavier concentrations of Latinx voters, going to district elections, she argued, “They will still be diluted and in fact, they will now not have the ability to gain critical mass behind a candidate of their choice.”

Will Arnold said that he is in favor district elections and the voting rights act, but he argued, “I never really saw Davis as the poster child for the need for this.”

He said that, however, Davis meets the criteria under the law, and he has nothing before him that refutes that.

Councilmember Arnold added after a lengthy explanation, “I am somewhat begrudgingly in favor of moving toward an election in November 2020.”  He pointed out, “That is maximum voter participation.  I think that’s a good thing for democracy.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “I do support the move to district elections.”  He added, “We don’t really have an option of waiting until after the updated 2020 census numbers.  That’s disgraceful frankly.  We’re going to go through this whole process, a rushed process…  we don’t have enough time to really do it…  We’re going to have to do it twice over a short period of time.”

He said, “We don’t really have a choice as to whether it’s going to be 2020 and frankly it’s got to be November 2020.”

He later said, “This whole process is frustrating.”

Councilmember Dan Carson listed the costs of challenging district elections.  From those, he concluded,  “I am supporting district elections.  I am supporting the move to go forward in November because I believe I have a fiduciary duty as a city councilmember to protect the city and protect it from losing money we need for police, fire, parks, road maintenance and lots of other things that are really important around here.”

He noted on the upside that district elections would reduce election costs and open the door for some new people to enter our political process.

He said, “We need to go into this with eyes wide open.”

He argued he was not convinced this would increase minority representation.  “I am not convinced of that at all and I think it could well prove out to be just the opposite,” he said.  He is also concerned that if we go to a district election, “do we lose our focus on what’s good for the city as a whole?

“I don’t like this process,” he said.  “I think it’s inappropriate for a former city councilmember and county supervisor who resides in Woodland, who after he retires from public office, turns around and hits the city with a demand letter that says, if you don’t do what I say right away, I’m going to take away millions of hard earned tax dollars that belong to your city.  That’s really wrong.”

He said he thought we need to “not let outsiders divide us.”

Mayor Brett Lee added, “I found that demand letter fairly offensive.  I don’t think it was coming from a place of sincere desire of improving the governance of Davis.”

When the council voted on the motion to move the elections to November 2020, Gloria Partida added, “Can we add that we really don’t like it?”

The council was unanimous in their dislike for this process, in addition to support for moving to the ultimate remedy – district elections in November.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Eric Gelber

    Gloria Partida, reading from prepared remarks said, “I’m not a fan of people with hidden agendas using hard-won paths to level real inequity to further those agendas.”

    I agree that there is such a hidden agenda and I’ve expressed my view on what I believe that agenda is in prior comments. I’m wondering if Councilmember Partida has given any indication of what she believes the hidden agenda is. This is not a moot point now that the decision has been made to switch to district elections since district boundaries have yet to be determined.

    1. Bill Marshall

      We’ll probably not know, until the ‘potential plaintiffs’ identify themselves (or, are “outed’)…

      But Wagstaff nailed it by asking who the ‘PPs’ are… you are correct Eric, it is NOT moot moving forward…

      My Jiminy Cricket is thinking one of them is a somewhat conservative Latinx Republican… would connect many dots… a lot of speculation could be set aside if the PP’s came forward.

      And, if there was a somewhat conservative Latinex Republican, depending on their character and ideas/beliefs, could easily vote for them… if I ended up in their “district”…

      This all is a bit Kafka-esque…

      1. David Greenwald

        I’m not exactly sure how they would find out at this point who the plaintiffs are. Part of the process is that this never actually gets filed as a case. The information is thus protected by attorney-client privilege.

        1. Bill Marshall

          The ‘potential plaintiffs’ could step forward… if they have integrity… but, failing that, you are correct that

          I’m not exactly sure how they would find out at this point who the plaintiffs are. Part of the process is that this never actually gets filed as a case. The information is thus protected by attorney-client privilege.

          Has to do with honesty/transparency, of the PP’s, not the law.  It is on their heads, not their attorney, or anyone else.  They need to own their initiation of this.  A lot of staff time, and costs, will be borne by the City on this forced ‘wind-sprint’… I hated wind-sprints when I ran X-country… still do…

          The timing of the ‘claim’ sure seems to have been designed to force the wind-sprint.  I have no respect for playing that game… not just forcing district-elections, but forcing changing to November elections (see letter, above)… this was calculated… of that, I have no doubt.

        2. Bill Marshall

          You said “I believe” (not “I surmise”… words matter), and you have definitely admitted to being in contact with Rexroad, in the larger matter…

        3. Matt Williams

          On the subject of the timing of all of this flurry of activity, earlier today I was asked by a voter, “How could this have been avoided?”

          The voter then asked a second related question, “If it couldn’t have been avoided, could the timing and process have been better managed by the City?”

          Followed by a third related question, “Why is this affecting the City this way, and not the School District?”

          When a fourth question was not forthcoming, I started my response by addressing the third question.  The rerality is that the School District and the City are equally affected by the underlying cause … the CVRA.  The specifics of how they are being affected is different because the School District took the time to assess the challenge they faced and developed a coherent and timely plan for addressing that challenge.  Once they put that plan into action, the School District also got to decide its own timeline, rather than having outside forces dictate the timeline.

          The voter thought for a moment and then said, “Thank you.  That answer to just the one question, actually answered all three of my questions.”  With that he turned and said, “Gotta run.”

          But it turns out he wasn’t actually done with the conversation, because after taking several steps, he turned back, and with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face said, “I have just one more question. Why wasn’t the City as smart as the School District was?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

        4. Eric Gelber

          Matt – As they say, hindsight is 20-20. Perhaps the City would have been wise to go to district elections sooner—and the writing was certainly on the wall—but it’s still the case that the great majority of cities in California utilize at-large voting for their city councils, and district elections are far more common in larger cities.

          From a media statement re a 2016 Common Cause survey of California’s 486 cities:

          Surge in By-District Elections: Most city councils (86%) are elected in at-large elections, where candidates run and are elected citywide. However, since the passage of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA), which prohibits using at-large elections that result in minority voter disenfranchisement, the number of cities with by-district elections has been growing, especially in recent years. From 2011 to 2016, the number of cities with by-district elections almost doubled from 31 to 59, now representing 12% of cities.  As a result of CVRA lawsuits, another 16 cities have agreed to switch from at-large in the next few years.

          So, I wouldn’t be too hard on the City for not moving on this sooner, and we don’t know that it wasn’t under consideration.

        5. Matt Williams

          I don’t disagree with you Eric.  Since we had descended to the level of Kafka, I was simply passing on the exchange.  It was certainly both interesting and timely.

        6. Mark West

          “So, I wouldn’t be too hard on the City for not moving on this sooner, and we don’t know that it wasn’t under consideration.”

          That would be a valid argument if the response in the Staff Report and from the Dais was along the lines of: “we knew we needed to do this but had hoped from more time…”

          Instead, the response was to blame those who were pushing the City to comply with the law. With that in mind, the City and the CC deserve all of the pointed questions directed at them. Why didn’t they address this sooner if it was obvious that change was required? Did the City Attorney not bring this to the CC’s attention since the law was passed?

          The other point that I would make is that your quoted text is now three years old


    2. Bill Marshall

      Oh… and if Ms Partida knows, I believe she has more than enough integrity to divulge that which is appropriate for her to divulge… and nothing more.  She appears to follow her conscience… brava!

  2. Sharla Cheney

    So much for transparency.  We’ll just have to guess who it is.

    I’m 100% in agreement with Gloria Partida.  What happens when people don’t like their limited choices or can’t vote for the person they want?  Just lose interest and not vote at all?  Though maybe a greater disinterest in all the convoluted political games in Davis might be a healthy thing.

      1. Sharla Cheney

        Or less, if people don’t show up at the polls to vote, because their choice is not someone that they support. I don’t see how winning an election with a smaller percentage of votes is a positive thing.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Sharla… moving to the General Election, doubt if there will be fewer voters going to the polls… but, will be interesting to see if the number of voters who show up, vote less in the CC part of the ballot… so, in essence, you may well be correct.

          I’ll opine again, as part of these changes, I hope on the CC elections, at least, we be given the choice of “None of the Above”… I’ll likely bring that up at one of the early PH’s on this.  If NotA wins, it will be up to the remaining CC to appoint someone…

        2. Alan Miller

          we be given the choice of “None of the Above”…

          Always!  Can you imagine if the country had NOTA voting in the last presidential campaign, with two of the least-popular candidates in history?  NOTA would’ve won hands down!

  3. Alan Miller

    This reminds me of companies paying off lawyers rather than fighting them, and having that bring on more lawsuits on other companies since the payoff then funds the lawyers to continue their extortion.

    Though the city caved, the council members were clearly disgusted by extortionist lawyers Rexroad who took the Rex Road rather than the high road, putting his interests above any true moral goal, real or fabricated, fixable or not broken.

    I much agreed with what was said by Gloria, Brett & Dan.  I suspect the true break is in the state law itself, which will have long-term, intended or unintended consequences to cities for decades or forever, much like Prop. 13 has in a different arena.

    So now it’s time to figure out who is gonna be running against whom in district elections, and see where Dillan ends up moving to since he’s a flexible renter, so he can run against whomever is weakest or where there are no incumbents.  What could possibly go wrong with district elections?  Go West DAVIS!  Rah Rah Shish Boom Bah!

  4. Tia Will

    While I believe the state law is well-intended, I also think Davis may be an example of one size does not fit all. I agree with the reservations expressed by Brett Lee, Dan Carson and most particularly Gloria Partida about whether this intent will manifest or actually be diluted in Davis. I also do not see this as a good-faith effort but rather as a form of legal extortion. I believe the City Council did the best they could with a deliberately adversarial act of bad faith and are in no way to be blamed for this process.

  5. Alan Miller

    So . . .

    What incumbents will be running unopposed to another incumbent, and which districts will have no incumbent?

    Do understand!  I not wish to dox anyone here — so no addresses please!, just general area, assuming west, north, south, east, central as approximate boundaries.  And will the population equalization be by population literally or by registered voters?  Do transient students count? Do vagrants count?

    So . . .

    Lucas . . . Central

    Gloria . . . East

    Dan . . . West

    Brett . . . Oeste, so Central or West

    Will . . .  ???  (I think someone mentioned Will isn’t running again, but that might be a rumor, so don’t quote me)

    So it looks like Brett could run against either Lucas or Dan, and Gloria may run unopposed.

    So Dillan should move to North Davis, where he will SLAY!

    But this is just an amateur first guess without an expensive consulting firm yet drawing lines with crayons, and my not even being sure of CC member locations for the most part.

    Any speculations?

    1. Mark West

      The districts should be drawn without any regard given to the home addresses of the incumbents or current candidates. They can adjust to the new reality just as well as everyone else, and if two end up in the same district, so be it.

      1. Alan Miller

        Clearly.  But one cannot un-see the races that were “both could win” are now “to the death” between incumbents, and can there really be no behind-the-scenes?  And also to point out the very interesting advantage that non-incumbent geo-fluid renters now have in choosing districts to live in so as to gain advantage in winning a seat.  Pointing out what BS is all is, by Law of Unintended Consequences, or sheer LUC.

        1. Mark West

          “can there really be no behind-the-scenes?”

          No, largely because there is no way to control what the Staff will do. If the CM wants to favor one or more incumbents he will find a way to do so without there being a paper trail. The CC though should make it clear through their instructions to Staff that the incumbents home addresses are not to be part of the equation for determining the Districts.

        2. Alan Miller

          You trust the system much more than I.  I spent several years lobbying in Sacramento, and everything one hears about politicians and the system is 100x worse than one could imagine.  Possibly difficult to game the system in such a small town, but even that that is now an issue is problematic, this having gone from zero to 100 in a few weeks.  Even if this were a good idea, this is rushed.

        3. Mark West

          “Even if this were a good idea, this is rushed.”

          Is it, really? When did the State law change, and when was this topic brought to the City’s attention? Seems to me this only seems rushed due to the general indifference shown to the new law by the CC/CM. The fact that a lawyer/client was able to take advantage is not the problem, what is, is the lack of action taken by the City and the lack of urgency shown in making the change in what should have been a timely and proactive way.

          “You trust the system much more than I.”

          Not really, I just don’t see a valid alternative.

          “Possibly difficult to game the system in such a small town…”

          The system has been gamed in Davis for years, which is why certain property owners always seem to get their way. If you want to really understand who is the ‘protected class,’ just take a look downtown.

        4. Alan Miller

           . . . what is, is the lack of action taken by the City and the lack of urgency shown in making the change in what should have been a timely and proactive way.

          That may be true.  I was wondering about that, but that wasn’t talked about much here.  The finger-pointing all seems to be from the City out and from the citizens out, and Rexroad is taking advantage.  But should the finger be pointed at the City?  I’d like to hear more.

        5. Alan Miller

          If you want to really understand who is the ‘protected class,’ just take a look downtown.

          Don’t understand what you mean by this.  And I’ll probably regret asking . . . but what the h*ll, I’ll bite . . .

        1. Mark West

          I’m not clear on what you are commenting on here, Tia. We are changing the election rules and in my view, all parties should be subject to those new rules without special favors, if we want the results to reflect the ‘will of the voters.’ What exactly are you disagreeing with? What part of my comment has anything to do with filing a lawsuit against the City?

        2. Matt Williams

          Tia, the words of your comment appear to be advocating for a form of Tyranny of the Majority.  I don’t think that is your personal intention, but it does appear that is whart your words are saying.

  6. Alan Miller

    The system has been gamed in Davis for years,

    I just meant regarding this one issue . . . drawing lines and incumbent residency.  No need to use it to slam property owners, your favorite run-around topic.

    1. Mark West

      “No need to use it to slam property owners, your favorite run-around topic.”

      I was not slamming property owners in general (I am one after all), just the handful who seem to ‘always get their way’ despite the impact on the rest of the community. That said, I think almost every controversial topic in town should be informed by the fact that property owners are in the minority and that their interests should not necessarily take priority.

  7. Ron Glick

    “If the CM wants to favor one or more incumbents he will find a way to do so without there being a paper trail.”

    Even if true, something I doubt, why would the CM risk putting his career on the line in such a manner? He would have everything to lose and likely nothing to gain. The CC will likely be presented with a number of maps to choose from and will make the decision based on those maps.

  8. Ron Glick

    I must agree with Mark West on the timing issue. Davis is the last city in the county to make the change and only is grudgingly moving forward under duress. Even then, the city would drag its feet if it could, while many are still whining about why this change is not needed.

    I get the discontent  because Davis doesn’t have a racist bone in its body politic. Nevertheless we will be moving from one imperfect system to another imperfect system. Such are the vagaries of representative government. No system is perfect. At least this new system will be in compliance with the long held democratic concept of one person, one vote, instead of  the one person, two (or three) votes system we have now.

  9. Ron Glick

    As for the continued attacks on Rexroad and his clients. I find this rather unbecoming especially from our elected officials.

    Matt Rexroad did an excellent job representing his clients. Isn’t that what lawyers are supposed to do? All this stuff about hidden agendas and prior public service is totally irrelevant to the facts of the complaint and the demand for a remedy. To an unbiased observer such as myself, who can manage to live under either an at large system or a district system, it looks like sour grapes.

    Finally the hand wringing over the identities of Rexroad’s clients is telling. If I was the client I wouldn’t want my identity revealed unless it became necessary  to do so either. Look at all the criticism and animosity being directed at these people. Now consider the counterfactual and put yourself in the shoes of the clients, would you want your identity revealed in the face of so much hostility?

    1. Alan Miller

      If I was the client I wouldn’t want my identity revealed . . .

      I doubt anyone who does something sh*tty would want their identity revealed.  So what’s your POINT?

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