By Miriam Raftery
July 16, 2015 (El Cajon) – El Cajon currently holds at-large elections where everyone in the city votes for all five Council races. But on Tuesday, the City Council voted 5-0 to have staff move forward with implementing a shift to individual districts each electing its own representative. The concept of districts aspires to provide greater representation for minorities to elect representatives reflective of their neighborhoods' concerns.
Mayor Bill Wells made the motion, stating, “If this is what the people of El Cajon want, we’ll go along with it. I think it’s important that people understand El Cajon is in no way a racist city. We’re comfortable with people having whatever kind of elections they want to have.”
Councilman Gary Kendrick told East County Magazine that the action was also motivated by concern over potential litigation, since “there is a group of attorneys that goes up and down the state suing cities with 100,000 people or more” to get district elections. “The cities have never won, so we’re going to be proactive and save taxpayers a couple million dollars.”
The demographics of El Cajon have shifted dramatically in recent years. Drawing up individual districts could give a stronger voice to the two largest minority groups in El Cajon, Iraqi Chaldeans and Latino voters, which together actually constitute the majority of El Cajon's citizenry. El Cajon currently has one Chaldean woman, Starr Bales, serving on the Council, but no Latinos. While coincidentally the council has represesntatives from several different areas of the city, district elections assure geographic representation for all communities in the city.
As for who would draw up the district lines, always a controversial issue in any redistricting proposal, Kendrick said the city would likely contract with a third party company that specializes in redistricting to avoid any conflict of interest with Council members drawing up district lines.
But Bonnie Price, co-president of the East County Democratic Club, speaking at a Club meeting this evening, said she wants to see a bipartisan citizens’ commission draw up the new districts to assure that all of the people's voices will be fairly represented. “It worked for California,” she says, “and it can work here in El Cajon.”
The redistricting measure would first go before voters in 2016 and would likely not be in place until the 2018 elections, Kendricks said.