I have stated a number of times already that I would like to see three specific things come out of the district election process.
First, I would like to see at least one district that is likely to be a minority-majority district. Contrary to a lot of people in this community, I don’t think people of color are often well represented here. When I first got active here in Davis, the concerns that people of color had in their interactions with police were often ignored. Racial profiling by both police and citizens were rampant. Problems like achievement gap and discrimination remain.
While things on this front are better than they were in 2006 – having representation on the city council and school board are paramount to ensuring that we protect rights and address grievances.
Second, I would like to see at least one student majority district. Whether or not that would actually create a student representative on council is another matter – and will depend on organizing and voter registration.
But students have their own unique challenges, from issues like noise and nuisance to the need for housing and transportation.
While many will argue students are transitory – and individual students are indeed so – students as a whole will be omnipresent in the community. The student of today will have the duty and obligation to represent the student of tomorrow.
Third, I support a seven-district configuration. There are both positives and negatives of course to expanding districts. The biggest downside is more elected representatives – and more time discussing issues.
But at the same time, the smaller the districts, the lower the barrier to entry and the more likely we are to see communities of interest, like people of color and students, represented on the city council.
Some will say then why not nine – because if seven is heaven, nine is divine. The reality is that it’s a trade off between representation and logical and practical concerns. To me, seven threads that needle well.
All of those issues are important. In fact, I would go so far as to say that without addressing those issues, we have not fulfilled our obligations under CVRA (California Voting Rights Act). However, all of this comes with a warning sign. Whatever system we devise here is fragile.
The community is leery of district elections. There is good reason for that. Many people have come to the conclusion that a political game is underfoot and behind the effort by Matt Rexroad and his clients (as we strongly suspect the College Republicans’ involvement) in the creation of the system.
Many people believe that Davis does not need district elections. Many still believe that this is a largely white and monolithic community. Many more will argue that there are no ethnic or racial enclaves.
Those who understand the system and the process recognize that the council has little choice here, and that accounts for the lack of anger or pushback in most of the community.
But there is a danger here. That danger could undermine the patience and tolerance that many have for change. It carries with it a risk of undermining support for the entire system.
To put it simply, most people really don’t care what the districts look like. But what they will care is if it looks like their elected representatives are attempting to rig the system, to engineer the system, to game the system to protect incumbents.
I would argue that one of the problems with the current system is some areas of town are under-representative while others are over-representative. We talk ourselves into the notion that this doesn’t matter. After all, we are a small town, and the interests of Anderson Road residents are not that different from those of the Mace area.
But whether you can justify the current arrangement or not, I would argue that there will be the temptation by those on council to gerrymander the districts to avoid putting two incumbents in one district.
To me that would be a huge mistake. It will have the tendency to undermine the community’s trust and support in the entire system. And for what? A temporary advantage of not having incumbent face incumbent?
This is a one-time problem. Anytime you design a system anew, you will create conflicts. I would argue those are healthy. Change is good. It keeps things fresh. No one is indispensable in a democracy.
The number one commodity is trust in a democracy. Trust in the system. Trust that those elected will hold the good of the community over their personal good.
As the school board says, we move at the speed of trust. In times of change, trust is even more important. And thus, I would argue not to undermine that trust before we even get started.
—David M. Greenwald reporting