SANTEE MOVES RELUCTANTLY TO ADOPT DISTRICT ELECTIONS

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Today is last day to submit a map for final consideration at next Council meetings

By Mike Allen

 April 4, 2018 (Santee) -- Like it or not, and all five council members absolutely do not, Santee is adopting a system of district elections in advance of this November.

 Starting in late January, the council has been holding public hearings and soliciting comments about how boundary lines dividing the city into four quadrants should be drawn.

 Instead of all city residents voting for all four council representatives and the mayor, the new system sets up four districts and limits residents to voting for only one council member within their district. The mayor would continue to be selected by all city voters, keeping that position as at-large.

 About a dozen different maps have been submitted, and so far, the results haven’t been pretty, particularly to all five incumbents.

 “Not one of these maps will make any of us happy because we’d like to continue to do the at-large elections,” said Councilman Rob McNellis at the council’s last meeting March 28.

 Santee officials say dividing up a small city of about 56,000, that is fairly balanced racially and economically, makes no sense. Cities and agencies are being forced to adopt the districts to comply with the state’s Voting Rights Act, and ensure that minority populations have fair representation.

But what happens if minorities are fairly distributed and make up less than a quarter of the total population as they do in Santee, according to the 2010 Census? Cities and all public agencies still have to comply with the law or risk paying hefty fines, council members said.

 McNellis said council is adopting the district elections “because this is the will of the Courts and our representatives in Sacramento at this time.” He also reminded his colleagues of potential fines if the city challenged the law.

Several Califonia cities had to shell out millions of dollars in legal fees and not one of them were successful in avoiding the adoption of district elections, he said.

 At least two council members, Brian Jones and Ronn Hall, were inclined to fight the mandate, or at least get the lawyer who notified Santee that it wasn’t in compliance to prove why it had to adopt this district system.

 “I’m calling out our City Attorney on this,” Jones said. “I’m not convinced we can’t fight it.”

 But Jones didn’t make a motion for such a legal challenge, and at the end of the hearing, the council voted 4-1 in favor of a map that seemed to be the least objectionable and met the criteria of an equal distribution of population, and with recognizable boundaries. However, Council left open the possibility of considering any new maps submitted by today’s deadline, April 4.

 Councilman Stephen Houlahan said he voted against the map, called Map A, because he didn’t think the east/ west boundary line of Carlton Oaks Drive was best. Residents on both sides of the street have far more in common. The San Diego River should be the east/west boundary, he said. There are more differences among residents living north of the river than those residing south of it, Houlahan said.

 A map called the Tan map made more sense and needed some adjustments, but the consultants didn’t make the process easy for anyone, he said.

 Map A submitted by Santee businessman Dustin Trotter could work in his favor as it creates a boundary line that puts him in District 3. In other maps, Trotter would be a resident in District 4 where Houlahan lives. But Houlahan is not up for re-election until 2020. That would have prevented Trotter from running unless he moved out of the district.

Trotter ran in the 2016 election and came in second behind Houlahan; he is apparently interested in running again.

 Santee citizens can view the proposed maps at the city’s website, http://cityofsanteeca.gov. They can submit ideas and their own maps by the April 4 deadline. New maps may still be voted on at the next meetings, which are April 11 and 25. Council members have said changes to Map A and other proposed maps could still occur, and all input is welcome.

 “We’re not finished yet,” said Mayor John Minto. “Our goal is to make sure there is a fair and balanced representation for our entire city.”

 Environmental activist Van Collinsworth who submitted three maps, said he drew the lines following geographic features, but recognized that any map is going to have some faults. “The reality is that any map we do will have some political fallout,” he said.

 Hall, who would be in District 2 in most maps along with Jones, has been the most outspoken opponent to district elections and noted in a meeting last month that the district system would sow the seeds of turfdom, and not looking out for the entire city.

Since the city of San Diego has adopted district elections decades ago, it has fostered a tendency of council members to focus on their districts alone, and not consider issues affecting districts outside their own, Hall said.

Direct link to view maps proposed thus far: http://cityofsanteeca.gov/Home/Components/News/News/2615/9?backlist=%2f