PASO ROBLES — Paso Robles joins a growing list of cities bowing to demands that they start start electing council members by district, instead of city-wide elections, or face a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act.
At Tuesday’s, Sept. 25, special meeting, the City Council approved a resolution that begins the process of establishing and implementing by-district elections for council seats and allocated approximately $60,000 for costs.
By-district voting will not be in place in time for the Nov. 6 general election.
The Voting Rights Act was designed to increase opportunities for Latinos and other minorities to elect representatives of their choice. The law specifies a number of factors for creating districts including equal populations, contiguous borders and common interests. Race should be a factor but cannot be the predominant criterion, the law states.
Cities up and down the state have already made the change or agreed to do it. This is not relegated solely to city councils. In recent years, a few attorneys have used that law to threaten lawsuits to school districts and other elected bodies across the state such as hospital boards.
Like most of the cities making the change, Paso Robles received a letter from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, demanding the city switch to district elections to comply with the state’s Voting Rights Act.
Entities can choose to take a stand, but have not been successful. No city has yet to successfully defend itself from one of these legal challenges and every city has incurred significant legal fees. Under state law, plaintiffs in these cases are able to get legal fees from cities they sue.
Palmdale in Southern California was forced to pay $4.5 million to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, not counting the city’s own legal fees, after fighting a similar lawsuit in 2015.
In other matters:
— Airport Lease Agreement — Council approved the assignment and assumption of Municipal Airport Property Lease of Laura Coats Revocable Trust to the Thomas Allen Schulz Revocable Trust for property commonly known as 4350 Cloud Way in the Airport Industrial Park.
— Centennial Park Roof Repair — Council approved authorization for the City Manager to enter into a contract for Centennial Park Roof Repair with the lowest responsive bidder James A. Quaglino, Inc. dba Quaglino Roofing in the amount of $255,860.
— Police Department Firearms Purchase and Surplus — Council approved a resolution declaring the police department’s aging firearms as surplus and authorizing the City Manager to enter into a contract with ProForce Law Enforcement Inc. to purchase new Sig Sauer firearms, holsters, and lighting for the department. The City will save $15,980 toward the purchase of new firearms and equipment through this contract. The total cost to the City is $23,317.26.
The next City Council meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 2.