Last week, the Oakley City Council decided on how it would proceed with future elections by keeping its rotating mayor structure and will have five district boundaries within the City of Oakley.
With the map finalized and the election years decided, here is how voters will vote in upcoming election cycles and what seats will be up for election:
- District 1: 2024
- District 2: 2022
- District 3: 2024
- District 4: 2022
- District 5: 2024
The city was forced to move away from an at-large election (meaning councilmembers could live anywhere in the city) to five city council Districts (1-coucilmmember elected per district) after receiving a letter, like other cities, school districts and special districts accusing them of racially polarized voting in the city and that Latinos are a protected class.
According to the city, they received a certified letter on March 13, 2020 from Kevin Shenkman saying the city’s at-large electoral system dilutes the ability of Latinos (a protected class) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Oakley council elections.
Back in July, Vice Mayor Randy Pope requested proof of racially polarized voting in Oakley and had a heated discussion over moving away from at-large to District elections.
With a population of Oakley, districts will represent a population of around 9,000 people—all whom are not registered voters.
There are five criteria used for drawing districts:
- Equal population
- Compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA)
- Respect for Communities of Interest
At the Nov. 9 meeting, after receiving the staff report, the council was set to decide on a rotating mayor vs. elected mayor and if the city would be broken up into 4 council districts or 5 council district and which years each District would run for election.
Mayor Sue Higgins asked the question if the council wanted a 5 District Map or a 4 District Map.
Councilmember Anissa Williams asked if an elected mayor would make more than the city council and what cost that could be.
City Attorney Derek Cole said that has not yet been discussed. The only thing that would happen right now is removing the part about “selecting a mayor”. The council didn’t have to have a greater stipend than other council members nor any additional duties that the councilmembers already have. The mayor does coordinate with city manager on creating agendas and running the meetings. Any changes in compensation could not take effect until the next term.
Williams stated she believe they should stay with five districts and keep it as it is because the mayor does not have any additional duties
“If you do have an at large major, at some point in time, only some people will vote for them whereas if its rotating, at some point there will be a mayor that people from that District voted for them which gets to the heart of the California Voting Act was for which was for equity across and everyone’s voice could be heard,” said Williams. “I don’t want us held fiscally to something that doesn’t make sense”.
Vice Mayor Randy Pope explained this happened because of accusations of “racially polarized voting” and they threatened to sue us and that is why we are doing this. He explained he called for evidence of this and has yet to see it which is why he could not support moving to District elections.
Pope further highlight that Oakley is too small to cut up into Districts noting the demographer stated just moving streets throws off the maps and makes drastic changes.
“The fewer smaller pieces we cut into are better so I would support the four-district model,” said Pope. “The five-district model does a poor job adhering to our goals of communities of interest, neighborhood, the lines are jetting in and out of neighborhoods. So, four does a lot less than that and it makes sense to have one person representing the entire city.”
He continued by stating they didn’t have to give the mayor any additional money or duties but its someone who could represent everyone and be the tie breaker on issues.
“My vote is for none, but if we have to do the lesser of two evils I choose the four districts,” said Pope.
Councilmember George Fuller said he believed in the election of all persons and said Oakley has not held the mayor accountable and in a rotation you may have a mayor who does not meet the standards of an at-large election.
“I know one thing that those cities have elected mayors when they meet as a council, together, they are there representing at-large, they have a stronger representation of their city and they are backed by their citizens, so I like that,” stated Fuller. “I think in the best interest of the city that we do that.”
Mayor Higgins confirmed Fuller wanted a 4-District map, which he did.
Councilman Aaron Meadows said he preferred five-districts.
“I don’t think we need an elected mayor and preferred five districts,” said Meadows.
Higgins provided her input.
“Gee, it looks like I am the tie-breaker,” said Higgins. “I think I set the standards that Mr. Fuller said I don’t. I am going to go with five.
She then made the motion to go with a five-district map which passed in a 3-2 vote with Pope and Fuller dissenting.
The council then decided which Districts would run in 2022 election.
Meadows proposed Districts 2 and 4 are up in 2022 and 1,3 and 5 up in 2024.
Williams agreed calling it the “simplest” when looking at the map.
Pope said he was fine with the “odd and even” approach” but should use some thought because there could be chaos.
“If I am in a 2024 expiring seat, but I live in a 2022 District, so I have to run and say I am successful, I’ll sit in the 2022 seat vacating the 2024 seat then the council will have to appoint somebody to fill my vacancy,” said Pope.
Cole explained the appointment would only be for 2-years and would be startup because they were fundamentally changing how voters relate to the council. He admitted the scenario could play out where you are up in 2024 but have to run in the 2022 election for a District.
“Or if you lose, someone else is elected to the District you live in, and you still have two-years to serve now that District has double representation for two-years,” explained Pope. “I just want to make sure the council is okay with the potential chaos we may be creating or if we dive into it too much more could we be accused of gerrymandering.”
Cole said incumbency cannot be considered when they are finalizing the maps or Districts.
The council then voted for District 2 and District 4 to run in 2022 and District 1, District 3, and District 5 run in 2024. The council voted 5-0.
The council then voted again to approve the ordinance in a 4-1 vote with Pope dissenting.
The item will come back to the council in December for final approval.
- Demand Letter: March 13,2020 Demand Letter from Shenkman & Hughes Law Firm
These were the meeting dates for District elections:
- August 31, 6:30pm Oakley City Council Chambers 3231 Main Street, Oakley CA 94561
- September 28, 7pm Oakley City Council Chambers 3231 Main Street, Oakley CA 94561
- October 5, 6:30pm This meeting with be held virtually on Zoom
- October 26, 7pm Oakley City Council Chambers 3231 Main Street, Oakley CA 94561
- November 9, 7pm Oakley City Council Chambers 3231 Main Street, Oakley CA 94561
- December 14, 7pm Oakley City Council Chambers 3231 Main Street, Oakley CA 94561