Déjà vu: Council Hears District Elections Presentation Again

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

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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. Ron Glick

    Seyman spoke about students and renters not just renters and he made perfect sense. We shouldn’t make his unfamiliarity with the public process or the Mayor’s passive aggressive  rudeness detract from the point he was making that students and renters are underrepresented in city politics.

    1. Bill Marshall

      the point he was making that students and renters are underrepresented in city politics.

      Honest questions, Ron G…

      Could someone who has been a student, and a renter in Davis properly represent those groups even tho’ they are now neither?  Can someone who has been neither? [no need to answer, just food for thought, for all…]

      I believe they can be… I also believe some/many will not be ‘satisfied’ until there are 2-3 renters, 2-3 POC’s, and at least one college student @the dais.  They will claim under-representation, and inequity… a few would say that a student/renter/POC (all 3) would only count in one category…

      Ironically, most of CC business covers everyone, nothing unique.  But, it is what it is…

        1. Bill Marshall


          I know a lot of folk, including myself, who can, and have, effectively represented others, even when the other’s interests did not align (or could even be contrary) with their own interests.  I know of many who can’t… the latter have been gaining strength for many years now.  More is the pity… anything that is neutral or against their self interest, and/or that of their “tribe” is opposed, and often denigrated.

          Then there are attorneys, and politicians (often, one and the same)… who will argue anything, any way, if they believe it is their self-interest to do so… Twain (Clemens) “nailed it” in many of his essays… as have others… Shakespeare also did… ” first, we must kill the …”

          My concern re:  districts, and more of them, is rooted in the concern about “parochialism”… districts are a fait accompli… I advocate for keeping it at 5… a mitigation…

        2. Eric Gelber

          Of course one need not be a member of an interest group to advocate its interests, sometimes out of necessity—otherwise children, for example, would be without representation. But this can be overstated to the extent that it undervalues the importance of diverse representation on policy- and decision-making bodies. It’s what historically resulted in (and to a large extent still results in) corporate boards, legislative or  judicial tribunals, etc. comprised almost exclusively of white males. Certainly you wouldn’t suggest that women’s health policy, for example, should be made by bodies comprised exclusively of men. “Nothing about us without us” is a principle of the disability rights movement but applies more broadly.

          And since you brought it up: Lawyers represent their clients’ interests, not their self-interest. As to Shakespeare’s oft-misinterpreted quote, “… let’s kill all the lawyers,” it was actually intended as a compliment. It was spoken by a follower of a rebel who felt that if he disrupted law and order, he could become king.

    2. Tia Will


      Serious question. You were there. You know Mr. Seyman was shouting, making demands and arguing about process. Do you really believe the mayor did not have the responsibility to stop him from continuing this tirade? This is completely apart from the validity of his comments. Would you have the mayor allow public comment descend into a free for all for anyone wanting to dominate through volume and persistence?

  2. Alan Miller

    “The most important thing is to not change if you don’t want to change,” he said.

    But I thought change was inevitable.  And don’t the Vanguard and all the finger-wagers in this town go nuts and shame-shame people of “fear of change” whenever certain subjects come up that they support?  I want the T-Shirt!


    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not sure what you are saying, but changing to district elections is inevitable, what he’s talking about is the shift in focus from city to districts is not.

  3. Alan Miller

    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 . . .

    DG, seriously?  A guy gets all wound up and angrily won’t yield at three minutes and refuses the polite requests of the mayor — and you enable this behavior by giving him air time?   Hey, I’ve been known to give an outrageous, ‘fiery’ speech before the council, but I also have control of my emotions, and no matter how far I take the act, I know that the show is over at 03:00 MINUTES EXACTLY.  I don’t remember, did you also give air time to the native woman who kept talking after 3:00 on police issues a couple of years back, claiming ‘native privilege’?  In my book that actually is a valid reason, even more so if she’s Patwin, but nonetheless, giving press to bad behavior just encourages more people to go outside bounds of civility.  Not even that I’m a big fan of civility, but really they are just shooting themselves in the foot as far as making their point to people who might otherwise have been willing to listen. I don’t care what their point is, even if it’s something I agree with, they aren’t making their point any better by being selfish and taking up everyone’s time.  Robb Davis finally took to just taking a recess whenever she did this and leaving the dais, until she went away.

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