The third hearing on district elections came on Tuesday night, lasting well into the evening. Mayor Brett Lee hoped to get direction on five or seven districts, but with his colleagues evenly split, he declined to put his finger further on the scale and weigh in – though for a time he seemed to be leaning toward seven.
Unlike previous meetings, the public was engaged on the form of the districts far more than the question of having districts, which in fairness was always fait accompli. Nineteen people spoke during public comment.
Among two themes were concerns registered by residents of Old East Davis that some of the sample districts were splitting their neighborhoods into two and three different districts. Also, students pressed for more student representation.
Paul Mitchell said that one reason the districts look at times rough and meandering is that they are breaking the districts along census blocks, which enable them to know exact populations as well as subgroup populations. If they split a census block, they would have no sure way to determine size of a district.
Don Gibson, a graduate student about to get his doctorate, had drawn a sample map that the Vanguard published last week.
He said he drew his districts with the idea of “getting a renter, a student or a recent graduate elected. There has not been a student or recent graduate sitting on the council since 13 years.”
He added, “I think this is an amazing opportunity for inclusion by the city by maximizing the student population or the renter population which also happens to be more diverse than the non-student population.”
Dillan Horton, the only announced city council challenger said, “Just the creation of districts can… lower the barrier for candidates and diversify the representation on council.”
Tom Hensey, a student, added that this is a sustainability issue, “Many of us that get priced out become commuters.”
Gwen Coder from the Graduate Student Association endorsed the map presented by Don Gibson on behalf of the GSA executive council.
She noted that just because there is a majority renter situation in a district does not mean there will be a majority voter situation in that district. She therefore urged the council to create a district which has a super-majority of renters in order to ensure representation.
She noted that their difficulty with the housing situation “is a perspective that shapes so much of our interaction with this community.”
On the other hand, several representatives from Old East Davis noted that their neighborhood would be split up.
Rhonda Reed, President of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association said, “My bottom line is please keep our neighborhood together.”
During their discussion the council in general seemed amenable to looking for ways to keep neighborhoods like Old East Davis together. They were also interested in creating a district that could provide a representative from south Davis on the council, noting that over the years that part of town has often lacked representation.
There was some discussion and debate over whether there needed to be someone from South Davis or whether having a home district to which South Davis elected a member was sufficient.
Mayor Brett Lee pushed back a bit on the notion of representation.
He pushed back on the idea “that in order to have representation of students interest, there have to be students on the city council.” He argued, “I think it’s possible to represent a variety of groups, while not necessarily belonging to all of those groups.”
Councilmember Will Arnold added, “I am incredibly proud of the work that this council has done in my three plus years here, in terms of building new rental housing, in terms of creating… a renter’s ordinance to support renters and the agreement with UC Davis… to get them to provide housing to students on campus as well.”
He said that he is hopeful that they can get the vacancy rate into the 3 to 5 percent range “which is more healthy.”
Councilmember Arnold indicated that he prefers the 5-2 map for the district – the second five-member district map. He said that he was not initially in favor of moving to seven member districts, but sees some advantages there.
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said, “I am leaning towards a seven district map,” but cautioned that having seven members “is going to make it more difficult” to run meetings.
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs is probably the strongest supporter of the seven-member districts.
“I still remain interested or supportive of the potential of seven districts,” he said. “Lowering the barriers to entry, smaller geographic areas, lower population, so therefore it’s conceivably less expensive to run for election as a opposed to a citywide election.”
He does have some concerns about tribalism that might form, but thinks “some of that exists today without districts.
“We have the ability to do what’s best for the city,” he said.
On the other hand, Dan Carson remains the most outspoken for five.
I’m going to make my pitch for five districts,” he said.
He noted that he believes that going to seven will bring about $100,000 in additional costs.
“These meetings run long,” he warned. “Having seven of us will run longer, folks.
“I love working with my colleagues,” he said. “As the issues get tougher, the harder we work to compromise.”
He said, “I am nervous that going to seven changes that dynamic.”
“Maybe it doesn’t,” he said. “But I worry.
He is concerned that there is a natural tendency they will start to divide up into factions.
“I don’t want that,” he said.
Brett Lee, while not committing to five or seven, did note, “Humankind can probably figure out how to run a meeting with seven people.”
As of now, Will Arnold and Dan Carson were leaning toward five districts while Gloria Partida and Lucas Frerichs leaned toward seven.
—David M. Greenwald reporting