Monday Morning Thoughts: Do We Really Need a Citizen’s Commission for This?

Yesterday, Matt Williams published a guest commentary that outlined what he believed to be several “deficiencies” with the staff report on district elections.  Among his complaints was that staff was both “omitting” and “precluding” “the possibility of convening a Davis Citizens Districting Commission similar to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.”

He and city manager Mike Webb went back and forth on this idea.  In his update, Matt Williams noted that it was the opinion of Mike Webb who “believes there simply isn’t enough time to select the individual members of a Davis Citizens Districting Commission and complete the CVRA-mandated steps.”

Matt Williams writes: “ Looking strictly at the letter of the law, he has a point. However, I believe there may be a mutually agreeable path for solving that timeline challenge.”

Mr. Williams then cites language from Matt Rexroad’s letter: “If the City adopts the resolution by August 15, 2019, the City has 90 days from that date to adopt an ordinance establishing district-based elections. During that time, a prospective plaintiff is precluded from initiating a CVRA action.”

Mr. Williams opines: “That language appears to leave some discretion (perhaps considerable discretion) with the Rexroad and the prospective plaintiff to effectively (de facto as opposed to de jure) extend the 90-day period.  I believe it would be worthwhile to explore such a good faith extension in order to allow sufficient time to conduct the process with a citizens commission rather than with the very people who are seeking reelection … which achieves democratic legitimacy using district lines drawn for the interests of voters, not politicians.”

He adds, “If I were the City, I would be reaching out to Matt Rexroad early on Monday morning to get a sense of how important having districts drawn by the voters is to his clients.  If it is important, then he can give the City appropriate legal assurances that the de-jure 90-day window where a prospective plaintiff is precluded from initiating a CVRA action will become a de-facto 180-day window.”

For his part, Mike Webb argues, “There is no grace period to form districting committees as you suggest.”

He argues that the 90-day clock is “strict” and thus believes: “there is no time to solicit interest and convene a new commission body on districting within these very tight time constraints of the CVRA AND do so in a timeframe to make a shift to November 2020 Council elections.”

Matt Williams’ contention is based on the notion that waiving the timeline is a possibility for Matt Rexroad – I have no idea if such a waiver is possible under the law, even if Mr. Rexroad consents to it.

Would Mr. Rexroad consent to such a move?  Mr. Williams does not check with him to see if he would.

I do know from speaking with Mr. Rexroad on a number of occasions during this process that his chief concern, by far, is putting this into place by November 2020.  The proposed timeline by staff would allow that to occur.

My view of the need for a commission: While Matt Williams’ view is plausible, it remains at least partly speculative.  I would have presented a different approach for suggesting additional considerations rather than labeling an adherence to the letter of the law as “major deficiencies.”

For me at least, I would probably prefer for the council to draw the lines as they have set about through a professional demographer – see what the outcome creates, and reconsider the idea of the commission for future re-districting as it becomes necessary.

Mr. Williams suggests that a commission would divorce the process from elected officials with electoral stakes – but probably not by as much as he thinks.  Whether the lines are drawn strictly by a professional demographer or a citizen’s commission using a professional demographer, the council ultimately would have the same amount of final say.

Mr. Williams also faults the staff for not including information about the fact that the city is not restricted to considering a five councilmember format.

While Matt Williams has made an interesting point that creating more than five seats would likely create more diversity in districts, and I find intriguing an idea that they theoretically could create a student council district, there are a lot of downsides to going beyond five members.

It would certainly change a lot of dynamics on the council.  Three members would be able to caucus under the Brown Act.  I saw a seven-member district for the school board when I lived in San Luis Obispo – it was bit more unwieldy and meetings took longer, among other considerations.

While having a seven-member council is probably worthy of some discussion, again I would question whether the omission of that consideration should be considered a major deficiency.

There seem to be four major considerations on the table.  These include the criteria for districting, the selection of the mayor, and the timing of election.

I have previously stated my preference to move to November elections.  The argument there is that you get a higher turnout and larger percentage of people of color.   Given the CVRA is the reason for these proposed changes in the first place, this seems common sense if they can swing it.

Second, you have the issue of how to select the mayor.  One possibility is an at-large election, another is a selection process by council, and a third is simply to rotate.

My preference is probably an at-large mayor with the rest of the seats (four districts) divided up.  Though the city has pointed out, “In the past, other plaintiffs’ attorneys have made the argument that an at-large mayor still constitutes an at-large system, however.”

A rotation basis is what Woodland does and some of the council noted that is similar to the way that both the school board and board of supervisors selects its presiding officer.

The city has suggested a staggered sequencing of seats: “The Council may decide, for example, that three seats are up for election in 2020 and the two additional are up in 2022. This proposed decision will need to be shared before the third public hearing is held.”

There have been suggestions which have argued that, by doing this, they are acting somewhat unfairly.  But on the other hand, when Gloria Partida and Dan Carson were elected, the voters did so expecting them to serve four years.  I think grandfathering them into the district election makes most sense, but that will be decided by the council at some point.

Bottom line: while Matt Williams raises additional possibilities here, limiting the questions serves a practical purpose and I would not call these omissions necessarily major deficiencies.

—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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43 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    Why on earth would Matt Rexroads and his clients agree to an extension so Davis could appoint a commission? That is one of the most ridiculous unvetted ideas ever floated. When the new water system was agreed to Woodland adopted water rates in a timely fashion of weeks but it took Davis several years, a commission, two elections and scraping of a plan coincidently named Williams-Loge.

    1. Bill Marshall

      As good a point as it is, even if Rexroad/clients agree to an extension, there is nothing to stop another attorney, with other ‘prospective plaintiffs’ from writing a letter, and getting another $30,000 payday… demanding it be done by 2020.

      If there is an attorney out there, willing to split fees/City renumeration, at this point, I’ll be a ‘potential plaintiff’… easy money…

      And if someone thinks I’ve lost all respect for Rexroad, and his ‘potential plaintiffs’… damn straight… if you want transparency, the PP’s (or, pee-pees) should be identified, so we know who our ‘potential politicians’ (PP’s, it rhymes) are…

      1. Ron Glick

        Why would Matt Rexroad reveal his client’s names unless he has to in a court filing? He would needlessly be exposing them to public ridicule, harassment and who knows what else in today’s techno world. He might even be rightfully  accused of malpractice if he did so without client permission.

        Attorney, professional campaign manager, ex-marine and former County Supervisor, Matt Rexroad is playing this brilliantly. He is going to get what his clients want and at least a $30,000 payday for writing a demand letter. I’m sure his professional reputation will remain in tact when this matter is settled no matter what gripes people want to mutter on a local blog.

      2. Craig Ross

        How do you know there “nothing to stop another attorney…”. Although I do think you raise an interesting about the extension being vulnerable to other factors

      3. Alan Miller

        if you want transparency, the PP’s (or, pee-pees) should be identified, so we know who our ‘potential politicians’ (PP’s, it rhymes) are…

        Not only that, but as soon as they are identified, someone (probably the Vanguard) needs to label them by race.

      4. Matt Williams

        Bill does raise a good question with his “another attorney” possibility.  Here are my non-lawyer thoughts on how that possibility might play out using DJUSD’s current process as an example.

        Let’s start with asking whether DJUSD is vulnerable to receiving a CVRA “demand letter.”  It is my (non-lawyer) understanding that the answer to that question is, “No, DJUSD is not vulnerable to receiving such a demand letter.”

        The reason DJUSD is not vulnerable is that they have started a good-faith districting process.

        If the City and Rexroad and Rexroad’s “potential plaintiffs” mutually agree in good-faith to extending the 90-day timeline to accommodate Citizens Districting Commission involvement, that does not change the fact that the City of Davis (like DJUSD) has a good-faith districting process in place and moving forward with an end result of a November 2020 date for election of Council members in districts.  Therefore, it would appear to these non-lawyer eyes that a “demand letter” from another attorney would not have legal standing.

        Thoughts?

      5. Bill Marshall

        Ron G…

        No reason why an attorney would reveal “potential plaintiffs”/clients… might be a violation of professional ethics… but would be ‘transparent’…

        Meanwhile, no such restriction on the PP’s… they are opaque, but we have great clues of who at least one of them might well be…  if he does not self-disclose, so much or any political claim as to “transparency”… no matter how districts are formed, he needs to own up to his involvement in this… else, exposes himself as a fraud.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Oh, and to any attorneys reading this, I’ll insist on being transparent as a ‘potential plaintiff’… will give us a leg up on claiming that “payday”, methinks… by being more transparent…

  3. Bill Marshall

     I find intriguing an idea that they theoretically could create a student council district, there are a lot of downsides to going beyond five members.

    A)  there are already some precincts that could go to student districts, if one wants to gerrymander…

    B)  we could also have a latinx district, Asian district, perhaps find a creative way to create a LGBT++ district… oh, we also need a Black district and a women/female district.

    We have to be fully inclusive, after all, to meet the ‘spirit of the law’ (?)…

    We need no district for …

    1. Craig Ross

      “to meet the ‘spirit of the law’ ”

      The law simply requires the alleviation of RPV through district elections.  While I would support a student district, the law has little to do with that type of diversity.

  4. Bill Marshall

    My preference is probably an at-large mayor with the rest of the seats (four districts) divided up.  Though the city has pointed out, “In the past, other plaintiffs’ attorneys have made the argument that an at-large mayor still constitutes an at-large system, however.”

    Aka, “strong mayor”.. I reject that as a concept… flies in the face of a community this size… also flies in the face of

    an at-large mayor still constitutes an at-large system, however.

    I’ve always wondered about folk who can hold opposing views at the same time…

    As to elections, sure looks like…

     when Gloria Partida and Dan Carson were elected, the voters did so expecting them to serve four years.  I think grandfathering them into the district election makes most sense, but that will be decided by the council at some point.

    Please, David, be honest… in this opine, it surely appears that you are wanting to protect one seat… the bolded thing  (starting with ” the voters…”) is BS, and I call you on that… maybe 20% of folk who voted for either of the two, tops…  inherent bias?  Will it concern you if it was only Dan Carson’s term that would be truncated, where he’d have to run again, or is it something else other than making sense, being consistent.  I ask that, while saying that I could easily vote for Partida, if she ends up representing my ‘district’… she has not committed any faux pas, will have some experience… all good.

    No response expected.

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Bill –

      The case of San Luis Obispo serves as the good counterpoint.  They still have a city manager government.  And a weak mayor.  But the mayor is separately elected.  Why is it weak?  The mayor is elected to two year terms, the council four year terms.  The mayor gets the same vote as the council.  So there is no huge power advantage.  And San Luis Obispo is only two-thirds the size of Davis.

      Am I trying to protect a seat. You’re being very presumptuous there.  I have no personal or otherwise interest in protecting the seats.  I’m only trying to put worth what I believe is the best and fairest policy suggestions.

      1. Bill Marshall

        OK… maybe just a coincidence about the seat.

        But, if the purpose of the law is ‘fairness’, it’s half-stepping to only make some of the seats by district for a two year period… for those 2 years, could mean some ‘districts’ have 2 reps, some have none.  Is that “fair”?  Is it legal?

  5. Ron Glick

    It will be interesting to see if this change in electoral process results in better outcomes for student candidates as a byproduct. Although students are not a protected class the current structure has not served them well historically. As UCD grows more diverse perhaps the demographers will end up creating a district where a younger candidate can appeal to enough voters to overcome the obstacles created by the current one person two (or three) votes system.

  6. Matt Williams

    I would have presented a different approach for suggesting additional considerations rather than labeling an adherence to the letter of the law as “major deficiencies.”

    Point of Clarification 1:  I never said, nor implied that adherence to the law was a deficiency.  The deficiency was/is that the Staff Report does not address or even mention Staff’s thoughts about the including or excluding a Citizens Districting Commission in the process.  I strongly believe that the purpose of Staff Reports is two fold, (1) to inform the Council on the issues of the item before them, and (2) to educate the public on the issues their electeds are considering.  The educational component of this Staff Report was/is where the deficieny lies.

    For me at least, I would probably prefer for the council to draw the lines as they have set about through a professional demographer

    Point of Clarification 2:  A Citizens Districting Commission would use a professional demographer to help the Commission draw the lines. That line drawing process in a Commission process would be virtually identical to the way the Council will work with a demographer in a Council-driven.  The difference is in who is making the final decision, a group of voters or a group of electeds. My votes in Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010 were strongly in support of taking districtying out of the hands of elected officials.  I stand today by the principles that informed those votes just as strongly as I did then.

    1. Mark West

      “That line drawing process in a Commission process would be virtually identical”

      No, it would take longer and add nothing to the end result. In short, a complete waste of time. We have elected representatives for a purpose. How about we let them do the job we elected them for.

  7. Alan Miller

    I wonder if certain racial or special interest groups will start to congregate into the new districts so as to gain representation?  Like, if all the furries in Sacramento and Winters and Woodland and Dixon all moved to West Davis so as to get a furry elected to Council?

    Law of unintended consequences . . .

  8. Eric Gelber

    Matt Williams’ contention is based on the notion that waiving the timeline is a possibility for Matt Rexroad – I have no idea if such a waiver is possible under the law, even if Mr. Rexroad consents to it.

    I’m not an expert and have only cursorily read the statute. My reading is that 90 days to adopt an ordinance is the period during which a plaintiff is precluded from filing a lawsuit. So, certainly a prospective plaintiff can agree to postpone filing suit for a longer period. However, I don’t know that that would prevent some other individual from filing a lawsuit once the 90 days has passed.

    1. Matt Williams

      I’m not an expert either Eric, but I do think DJUSD’s current process gives us clues about the possibility/fate of a letter filed once the 90 days has passed. Starting with asking whether DJUSD is currently vulnerable to receiving a CVRA “demand letter,”  it is my understanding that the answer to that question is, “No, DJUSD is not vulnerable to receiving such a demand letter.”

      The reason DJUSD is not vulnerable is that they have already started a good-faith districting process.

      If the 90-day timeline is extended to accommodate Citizens Districting Commission involvement, that does not change the fact that the City of Davis (like DJUSD) has a good-faith districting process in place and moving forward with an end result of a November 2020 date for election of Council members in districts.  Therefore, it would appear to these non-lawyer eyes that a “demand letter” from another attorney would not have legal standing.

      Thoughts?

      1. Eric Gelber

        I’m not sure good faith has anything to do with it, but this is where it gets confusing. It appears other prospective plaintiffs would also have to comply with the other prerequisites to a lawsuit. Not sure how that would work once the process has already been initiated by a demand letter.

  9. Sharla Cheney

    I still don’t understand why we need to do this. I’ve read every article available and read every comment.   It makes no sense to me.  I can only see the downsides to doing this.  It just appears to divide the town regionally and politically for no good reason.  I really resent our city being managed by opportunistic lawyers.

    1. Eric Gelber

      If district elections will result in regional and political divisions, that means those differences exist but are masked by an at-large election system. District elections will allow those disparate interests, to the extent they exist, to be better represented. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

      Those you disparagingly refer to as opportunistic lawyers can also be characterized as lawyers who ensure that rights that exist on paper are actually implemented and enforced.

      1. Sharla Cheney

        I lived in Berkeley for a time.  District elections there seemed to create havoc.  There was very little turnover of elected officials.  They seemed to stay in office by catering to a core group of active supporters – their base – in their district and could ignored everyone else, both in their district and across the City.  It was not good.  I don’t think it will serve the people in this City well.

        Rexroad’s explanations don’t illustrate why there is a problem.  If it is assumed that Latinos tend to vote for a Latino in a state ballot, why does that prompt district elections for local offices where the Latino vote in Davis would be divided up and 4/5ths would not have been able to vote for Gloria Partida?  How can he claim that the Latino candidate will live in the area with the highest concentration of Latino voters?  What makes him assume that people voted for Gloria because of her race, rather than her volunteer experience, her views on social justice, and other aspects of her campaign platform?

        I think this all started when the neighborhoods around Mace Blvd. were upset by the traffic gridlock and felt that they didn’t have a City Councilperson from their neighborhood to represent them and this is the only way to guarantee that South Davis must have someone from their neighborhood on the Council.

        It appears no one has been harmed, but money can be made and grudges can be carried out.

        1. Mark West

          “There was very little turnover of elected officials.  They seemed to stay in office by catering to a core group of active supporters – their base – in their district and could ignored everyone else, both in their district and across the City.”

          It may take a decade or two to happen, but the next obvious step will be to implement term limits.

  10. Bill Marshall

    That won’t necessarily happen… a given voter might have one vote, every 4 years… for those who move around within town, could easily be one person, no vote, or one person, two votes in any given 4 year period.

    1. Eric Gelber

      This is always possible with staggered terms and district elections—e.g., if someone moves and changes State Senate districts. It’s not a compelling argument against district elections.

      1. Bill Marshall

        We’re talking within a city… not county, not state, not country.  Yes, could currently happen in Davis, as Davis has two County Supe districts… this just compounds that… more ballot types, which has a cost, and implications @ the polls, that don’t currently exist.  You’d be telling an untruth to deny that

        Chill, Eric… district elections are a given in Davis… only questions are when, and how… your ‘counter argument’ is moot.

         

      2. Bill Marshall

        When we move to districts, own the result, Eric… be they good, or have unintended negative consequences… guess you always have the “out” that if things go badly, you can point to the ‘implementation’ vs. the concept.   Attorneys do that…

  11. Bill Marshall

    David and Rexroad like math… here might be the new math:

    Current “at large”… depending on the size of the field of candidates, if 25% of the population is ‘protected classes’, and they vote on those lines, pretty likely they’d have a rep from the pc.  Even if they didn’t convince any non-pc to vote for them.

    District… if 25 % of each district is pc, depending on size of field, unlikely they would ever have a seat at the table unless they convinced the non-pc that they would be the best candidate.

    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind… we’re going to district elections, as sure as the world turns, and the forecast will be dark tonight, sunny tomorrow…

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      And, now I get to vote for 2-3 CC members every two years.  Soon, I’ll get to vote for one member every 4 years… ahhh… democracy!  Representation!

      But is now a given.

      We should also add the choice (like NV has) “None of the Above”… it’ll not be worse… might be better than what we’re heading to…

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