The district election map that three of the five Pleasanton City Council members voted to advance at Thursday's special meeting feels very gerrymandered and splits a notable neighborhood, versus the alternative map that better complies with the relevant criteria and just makes the most sense.
After four public hearings and more than a dozen versions of maps created by demographers, the council was presented with four fruit-named maps that were the end result of an evolution of previous maps with requested changes. This map will be used when the city moves from "at large" City Council elections to district-based elections this November, and will be used for the next 10 years.
The council will vote on this proposed final map Tuesday.
Legally required district formation criteria were given to the council before the first public meeting in January. The final map should have districts of approximately the same population that are easily identifiable and understandable by residents. The districts should be geographically contiguous "to the extent practicable," with boundaries of natural and artificial barriers, streets or city boundaries. Neighborhoods and "communities of interest" should be kept intact.
"Communities of interest" are defined in this list by what they are and what they are not. Specifically, they do not "include relationships with political parties, incumbents or political candidates"
Yet, we feel the reason three of the five council members voted for the "Tangerine" district map over the "Lime" has more to do with current council members than a long-term plan for the city.
Just looking at the two maps next to each other and you can see why the Lime version is the better of the four. It is easy to understand, with all four districts touching, using major streets -- Valley Avenue and Main Street / Santa Rita Road -- as boundaries. More importantly, the Lime map keeps all key neighborhoods intact and has the lowest deviation from the ideal population per district at 1.8%. In other words, it is more easily justified if the city is dragged into a lawsuit.
Unfortunately, residents were denied an in-depth discussion of the Lime map, and its predecessor, the Green map. A motion was put forth on Thursday, voted down by the majority, and the council moved on to the Tangerine map.
In addition to looking gerrymandered, the Tangerine map has a higher deviation from the ideal population-per-district than Lime, uses residential streets -- Independence Drive and Mohr Avenue -- as boundaries and splits Ventana Hills neighborhood into two districts.
One difference not discussed Thursday between the Lime and the Tangerine maps is maybe just the most relevant: The Tangerine would not put council members Jack Balch and Julie Testa in the same district, whereas the Lime would.
Brown sort of set the stage for her concern about two council members in the same district before any true discussion of the individual plans began.
While reviewing the Lime map Brown asked about the "sequencing" of election years for each district and what would happen if two current members are in the same district. She was concerned about the possibility that there would be four open seats (three district council seats and the mayor's) at some point, which would go against the city's established policy of having two seats and the mayor's on the ballot every even-numbered year.
Demographers Michael Wagaman and Tom Willis said that is not a possibility.
If a council member was elected in 2020, state law says he or she finishes the four-year term "at large." If there are two council members elected in 2020 drawn into the same district, they would both remain "at large" until the district's election year. Then, if both incumbents want to run for re-election, they would run against each other and any other candidates from that district.
In this case, though, Testa was elected in 2018, and Balch was elected in 2020. If Balch and Testa are in the same district based on where they live, Balch would be forced to decide whether to run early against Testa in November when her term is up, or remain in the at-large seat until 2024.
If Balch chooses to run early against Testa and doesn't win, he would remain at-large for the remaining two years of his term. His district seat will be filled in 2022, so he could run for mayor in 2024 or wait for his district election in 2026.
But if Balch runs against Testa in 2022 and wins, he would serve a four-year term representing his district. Testa could run for remaining two years of Balch's old at-large term -- along with anyone else from the city -- in a special election that, if memory serves, could cost around $300,000.
Or she could wait for the next election in her district.
But Testa losing in 2022 would upset the noticeable voting bloc that we see has formed with Brown, Arkin and Testa, who were the three in the majority vote for the Tangerine map.
This is a big deal because we will have this map until the next census cycle -- not for two years or two election cycles.
A flyer circulating now in Ventana Hills has a sense of urgency because if the Tangerine map is voted in, their "political voice will be diluted for the next 10 years."
Ten years is a long time.
Look at the maps and let your voice be heard before or during the Tuesday meeting.