Political Climate with Mark Simon: Council changes course on district map amid opposition

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

Redwood City is reopening public input and proposals for new council districts, following extensive complaints and public protests about a plan that had been adopted preliminarily by the City Council.

The council is set April 8 to hold “an additional public hearing to receive and review additional maps proposed by the demographer or the community,” according to a statement by City Attorney Veronica Ramirez.

More than 50 people, the majority of them from the Latino community, rallied outside City Hall Monday in protest of the district map that had been approved by the council on March 11 by a 4-3 vote. The council was scheduled to take a second and final vote on the map last night, but removed the matter from the agenda late last week amid mounting objection.

The reason for dividing up Redwood City into council districts is that the city is moving from an at-large system, in which all seven council members run for office citywide, to a system of seven districts, where voters elect only the council member who lives within their district. The city was compelled toward this transition under the threat of a lawsuit that asserts that the at-large system was systematically diluting the electoral impact of minority residents and denying the opportunity to elect more minorities to the council. The seven-member council has only one Latina.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

Opponents of the district map approved by council on March 11 say it doesn’t achieve fairness for minorities, creating only one Latino-majority district. The map, critics say, also fails to create another district in which minorities are the majority of the voting age population, despite a citywide ratio that is 52 percent non-white. The map also faces criticism for not putting the Redwood Shores neighborhood in a single district with Bair Island.

At Monday’s rally, protesters said they felt ignored after making several efforts to influence the map-making decision.

“The outreach was very little and very quick,” said Redwood City Realtor Arnoldo Arreola.

Protestors were carrying signs that read, “We Are Redwood City, Too,” and “SOY – Shame On You.”

“We want respect and we want a seat at the table,” said Yeshua Villa, a freshman at Woodside High School.

“We want an elective body that’s better reflective of our city,” said Connie Guerrero, a leader of Latino Focus and one of the organizers of the rally.

During closed session Monday, council decided to reopen public input on the map-making process. And then during open session, Ramirez made a statement about that decision, and Mayor Ian Bain urged the community “to take a close look at proposed maps and submit new ones.”

Rally organizers were pleased with the decision.

“I’m so glad they heard our voices,” said Guerrero.

She said she expected the renewed process to result in at least two districts in which Latinos are the majority of the voting age population.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

In the city attorney’s statement, which was issued following a unanimous vote by the council to waive the restrictions on closed-session disclosure, Ramirez said that the demographers who had been hired to shepherd the city through the districting process, “in a reversal of their previous statements … informed city staff for the first time it was possible to address the public concerns while still adhering to race-neutral districting criteria as well as criteria that the community and the council had identified as being important.

“Before the City Council continues the process of approving a final map, the city’s demographer has been instructed to determine whether there are alternative maps that both comply with all federal and state laws and additional concerns members of the community have raised,” Ramirez said.

At the April 8 public meeting, “the city may decide on a final map,” Ramirez said.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly described the makeup of the City Council.