It was déjà vu night at the city council meeting on Tuesday as the city was required by law to have the exact same presentation repeated by demographer Paul Mitchell.
What wasn’t déjà vu was the fiery public comment given by Richard Seyman, who was not about to yield the floor upon the conclusion of his three minutes.
Mr. Seyman said of his experience of more than 50 years in this community: “There’s a huge group, there’s not just an elephant that’s across Davis, it’s a mammoth. And I don’t hear anything that we’re doing addressing that group.”
He added, “Renters exist all over this town. If we divide this up, it’s going to make it harder for them.
“I don’t see this town addressing it – how is that effective?” he asked, referring to the demographics in the community divided between young and old. “I’m going to do what I can to see that this doesn’t carry through if I have to get someone to file a lawsuit.”
Mayor Brett Lee tried to cut him off, informing him that “we give everyone three minutes” and that he can always submit his comments via email.
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida suggested, “It may be wise to look at the districts every five years.” Although, she acknowledged, “I do think every ten years is probably the way to go.”
Dan Carson asked the demographer what other communities are doing to prevent the fracturing of government, making sure that representatives, while representing their districts, are also representing the city as a whole.
Paul Mitchell while acknowledging he is not an expert on local government, said, “I personally don’t think that the election system defines the council, needs to define its relationship to each other in the community.”
He added, “In my experience those agencies that go through a districting process – it’s more about what they don’t do.” He said if they maintain the same relationships with staff and the community “then you generally maintain that same type of feel.”
On the other hand, he said if they start viewing themselves as representing one district and stop conversing with people from other parts of the city, “then yes, the culture on the council would change.
“The most important thing is to not change if you don’t want to change,” he said.
Dan Carson said, “This process governs how you elect folks, it doesn’t have to govern how we govern after that. I appreciate that point.”
Lucas Frerichs noted that there was a fair amount of engagement with eight comments on this evening along with 12 the previous week. They also got a fair amount of emails.
“It’s not a huge amount of engagement,” he said.
However, from Paul Mitchell’s perspective, “In my experience this is a very large amount of engagement so far. Probably more engagement than we see in most re-districting for the entire redistricting process.”
He noted earlier this year that Santa Ana, a much larger city, “had probably less than this level of engagement through the whole process – in terms of formal communication through the entire process.”
Councilmember Frerichs re-emphasized, “Davis is not taking this on voluntarily. It’s being forced on us.”
He noted that in cities and school districts across the state it has “been happening systematically and yet not a single one of the cities or school districts have prevailed in lawsuits in terms of challenging this.”
He noted that Santa Monica has already spent upwards of $4 million fighting a lawsuit.
“It’s not something we’re taking on voluntarily,” he stated. “It’s aided, being aided by this threat of a lawsuit that cities are not prevailing on when they take action.”
Councilmember Frerichs spoke to the issue of adding the number of seats, arguing one of the most compelling reasons to do that is “lowering the barriers to entry.
“Currently as a member of the city council, you raise money to reach the voters throughout the entire city,” he said. By going to five seats, he noted they would have to reach perhaps 10,000 to 13,000 voters and increasing it to seven seats would further reduce the number of voters needed to be reached.
Paul Mitchell spoke to the issue of what is currently permitted under state law in terms of the quantity.
He said, “Under current law, you can go up to nine.”
Currently, the proposal has considered going up to seven. Paul Mitchell explained that would put each district under 10,000. Looking at the citizen voting-age population it would be much smaller – perhaps around 7000.
In places with large numbers of people who are not citizens or are under 18, “you might see some council districts with very few voters relative to other council districts.”
He noted that the smaller the district, “you are able to draw that district more tightly around a community of interest (and) potentially maximize their voting power.”
Mr. Mitchell said there has long been a debate over whether to maximize communities of interest or spread them evenly. He said current case law is favoring drawing districts to maximize communities of interest.
“The districting process would lean towards creating districts that can better reflect the community of interest,” he said. However, he said, they might find that “no creation of district lines is much better or much worse for that community of interest in terms of its ability to affect the outcome of the election.
“In which case, the city may want to look at other ways in order to define itself in terms of communities of interest,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting