Two weeks ago Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida indicated her support for seven districts, setting up Mayor Brett Lee as the deciding vote, as it was deadlocked with two councilmembers supporting five and two supporting seven. On Tuesday, she flipped, Brett Lee went for seven, and the council had a rare 3-2 split, even though they never actually took the vote.
Instead it was a 5-0 on Map 5-4, setting up a possible confrontation between Will Arnold and Brett Lee.
For those who had argued that this can be changed at any point – not so fast. We learned that in order to change from five to seven or to have changed back from seven to five, once it is set would require not only council action but a vote of the people.
“Once we vote to go to seven, we’re not going to change back,” Will Arnold stated.
Twenty people spoke during public comment – in stark contrast to previous sessions that seemed to lack intrigue and public interest. Twelve of them supported the seven-district option, while eight supported the five-district option.
There was an even more clear split – those who were students and people of color tended to support the seven-district option, while those who tended to be older or who leaned toward the slow growth side of the fence supported the five-district option.
In the end, it came down to Gloria Partida.
“This is a very unfortunate process,” she said. She said that they have said the council will represent the city regardless of districts, “but what we have heard so much from people coming forward is their concern for their neighborhoods.”
She said, “I understand where the renters and the students are coming from. I understand that you will get more representation in the smaller districts.
“What this has done for the Latino population is that we’re at like 11 percent in these districts. This process has actually disenfranchised the Latino population,” she said.
She noted that the seven districts would make it easier to enter the race for a candidate, but “that doesn’t really guard against well-resourced people throwing their resources behind someone in a district.”
Dan Carson remains the strongest advocate for five districts, citing the additional cost of $100,000 to go to seven.
“My main concern at the heart of it for me is our ability to work as a unified cohesive group,” he said. “I think that’s harder with seven.”
He said our natural tendency is “you tend to end up with teams and factions.”
He broke down the districts in the 5-4 option, and noted, “You can add a voice without fracturing our ability to do business.”
Lucas Frerichs remained a strong supporter of the seven-district option, conceding, “nobody is going to be fully happy with the decision.” He indicated that for next time, they will have the time to do a districting commission.
Meanwhile, Brett Lee came out for the first time and said, “I actually support the seven districts,” even as he could count and knew there were three votes against it.
He noted that they often reach out to encourage people to run for city council, and often they are reluctant to do so.
One factor in their reluctance is the cost, and he said that his campaigns have leaned toward the less expensive side, “but they’ve been about $20,000” with a higher end being $40,000 to $45,000.
“With five districts that will be cut down, but even more so with seven,” he said. Of seven districts, “It’s just a much more manageable size of a district.”
Another factor, he said, is the workload.
“In order to do a good job on the city council, you need to allocate a lot of time,” he said.
He said when he suggests that people consider running for city council, “If the cost doesn’t scare them off, then the fact that they will literally be away from their family four to five nights a week on a regular basis, this is concerning.
“With seven councilmembers, perhaps some of that workload is shared,” he said.
As a result, he argued, “We are missing the details. The thing that happened at Mace is because we are stretched thin. We don’t know the details.”
He added, “We don’t have that capacity to get into that level of details and I think that level of detail is actually an important thing.”
After deciding on five, Dan Carson pushed for Map 5-4. Will Arnold was more in favor of 5-3 arguing that “number two is too serpentine.”
In the end, Dan Carson moved for Map 5-4, Gloria Partida seconded it and it passed 5-0.
Will Arnold then moved for the sequencing to be Districts 2, 3, and 5 in 2020 and 1 and 4 in 2022. That also passed 5-0.
They aren’t done, as city staff must now create the ordinance that will be approved in two weeks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting