As a community news organization, fair and comprehensive coverage of local elections is our responsibility. It has always been and always will be a priority for our staff.
One aspect of that coverage is hosting candidate forums because we feel strongly that voters should hear directly from the candidates before ballots are cast.
Our editorial team has been hosting forums during election years since 2016. We had to switch gears in 2020 because of the pandemic, and all the forums were done on Zoom. This was challenging since we had always hosted forums in person before then, but it did teach us that there are benefits to virtual options.
This year we are going to do a few forums via Zoom only, but most will be a "hybrid" format -- in-person with an audience and livestreamed.
This hybrid presentation isn't the only change this year.
A majority of Tri-Valley councils and school board elections are now district-based -- a switch from at-large voting elections, in which voters from an entire jurisdiction elect candidates to each open seat.
Pleasanton was the most recent city to be forced to move to district-based elections after being threatened with a lawsuit brought by a Malibu-based law firm claiming the city's at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) by diluting minority voters.
District-based elections can be beneficial for larger agencies that serve many communities, like Alameda County Board of Supervisors or even the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
However, forcing geographic subdivision on relatively small areas, especially those without large segmented populations, like Pleasanton, is not beneficial for anyone -- except the lawyers, of course, who made a ton of money in what is essentially a shake-down.
Because of litigation costs in terms of staff time and money, and the failed attempts to fight this type of lawsuit by other jurisdictions, in 2021, the Pleasanton City Council -- like the San Ramon and Livermore councils before it -- "reluctantly" agreed to district elections.
Pleasanton Unified School District chose to switch to district-based elections before being forced to by an out-of-area law firm looking to make a quick buck.
District-based elections and the unintended consequences are not completely understood by many voters initially. For some, the change won't become completely clear until they look at their ballot and realize candidates for Pleasanton City Council aren't listed.
When a city or school district is divvied up into sub-areas, most voters will only be able to cast a ballot for a council or school board member once every four years, as opposed to each available seat every two years with an at-large district -- thus reducing opportunities for voters to make their voices heard.
Creating smaller districts also limits the number and variety of candidates by reducing the pool, which can be especially problematic for agencies already struggling to find fresh candidates.
Even though only about half of Pleasanton voters will cast a ballot for a council or school board candidate this year, and only about a quarter will be able to vote for a specific candidate, the format of the forums will remain the same.
Elected officials should not base their decisions on the dais thinking only of the people in their district but base decisions on what is best for the majority. Therefore, candidates from different districts will participate in the same forum and answer the same questions on the same topics.
Our staff will be hosting the following forums:
Pleasanton City Council: 6-8 p.m. Sept. 12 in City Council Chambers, 200 Old Bernal Ave., Pleasanton. Districts 1 and 3 council candidates will be on hand; Mayor Karla Brown will not attend as she is uncontested.
Livermore mayor and council: 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave., Livermore. The candidates for mayor will answer questions from 6-6:50 p.m., with the forum for Districts 1 and 2 council candidates beginning at 7 p.m.
Pleasanton Unified School District board: 6-8 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Pleasanton Unified School District Boardroom, 4665 Bernal Ave., Pleasanton. Candidates for Areas 2 will participate.
San Ramon mayor and council: 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 22, via Zoom and livestreamed on the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce's Facebook page. The forum for mayoral candidates will run from 6-6:50 p.m., with the forum for Districts 2 and 4 council candidates beginning at 7 p.m.
Dublin City Council: 6-6:50 p.m., Oct. 3, via Zoom and livestreamed on Dublin Chamber of Commerce's Facebook page. The council seats are at-large; Mayor Melissa Hernandez will not participate as she was unchallenged.
Dublin San Ramon Services District: Candidates for DSRSD will answer questions from 7 to 7:50 p.m. Oct. 3 -- after the Dublin council candidates -- via Zoom and livestreamed on Dublin Chamber's Facebook page.
Dublin Unified School District board Areas 3 and 5: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 6, via Zoom and livestreamed on Dublin Chamber's Facebook page.
We are also working to coordinate a forum for the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Board of Education candidates. Stay tuned for an update soon.