This week, Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery confirmed the City could be moving to District elections in the 2022 election after receiving a letter claiming the current election system is a violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
The city, with a population estimated just under 45,000, is being forced to make the move from At-Large elections where citizens get to pick all five councilmembers to dividing the city into 5-districts and each area voting for 1 candidate running in their specified district. The City received the letter on March 13 from Attorney Kevin Shenkman of Shenkman & Hughes.
In the past few years, letters have been sent to the cities of Antioch, Brentwood, Concord, Martinez along with both the Antioch Unified School District and Martinez School District to switch from “at large” to “District” elections. No city or district has been able to comply with the California voting Rights Act of 2001 unless they moved to Districts.
The City of Santa Monica fought the move to District and ended up spending $7 million in legal fees and the plaintiff requested $21 million in attorney fees and $1 million in costs as prevailing parties. The court trial is scheduled for Sept. 2020.
According to the letter, it says the City of Oakley’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 while claiming at-large elections allow a bare majority of the voters to control every seat, not just the seats in a particular district or a proportional majority of seats.
The letter argues that the City of Oakley’s at-large system dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of the City council elections. It notes as of 2010 Census, Oakley had a population of 35,432 with Latinos comprise of 35% of the city population while stating Latinos have never been represented on the Oakley City Council.
“In light of the City’s underrepresentation of Latinos, it is no wonder why Latino residents do not emerge as candidates, feel marginalized, and have historically been excluded from meaningful participation in the city’s governments” stated the Letter.
The letter further highlights how Dezi Pina, a candidate in both 2016 and 2018, had received strong support from the Latino community, but lost both elections.
2018 Election Results (Top 2)
- 24% – Sue Higgins (6,067 votes)
- 92% – Randy Pope (5,460 votes)
- 90% – Michael Durpay (3,997 votes)
- 94% – Dezi Pina (2,726 votes)
2016 Election Results (Top 3)
- 38% – Doug Hardcastle (4,708 votes)
- 53% – Kevin Romick (3,935 votes)
- 71% – Claire Alaura (3,441 votes)
- 16% – Paul Seger (3,294 votes)
- 41% – Michael Dupray (3,091 votes)
- 72% – Bruno Korbmacher (2,633 votes)
- 59% – Stephan DeMarco (2,326 votes)
- 46% – Dezi Pina (2,290 votes)
- 79% – Randi Jill Alder (1,296 votes)
- 25% – Write in candidate (68 votes)
Shenkman urged the City to voluntarily move away from “at-large” elections to district elections.
If Oakley does move forward in 2022, it would have the luxury of utilizing the latest Census Data that is being developed right now when creating their maps. Both Antioch and Brentwood, who vote Districts this year, created their mapping based on 2010 Census data and will have to redraw Districts by 2022.
It is unclear if the City of Oakley would consider moving to an elected mayor with a 4-year term and creating 4-districts versus for the city councilmembers.