Redistricting is a once in a decade event, under normal circumstances. But most of us know Upland just did this and had its first district elections in 2018. The reason being Upland had never redistricted before and was using an at-large voting scheme and was threatened with legal action, for not complying with the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act. The district map Upland adopted to ward off a costly lawsuit, was used to elect Janice Elliott, Rudy Zuniga, former Councilman Ricky Felix in 2018 and then Bill Velto, Shannan Maust and Carlos Garcia in 2020. However, that map used census data from 2010 and now that we have the 2020 census and a population increase of 5,637 residents living predominately in south Upland, the entire map needs to be redrawn, again. So, find out what this means to you and what the options are for changing the way Upland elects its city council, in this report.
Let’s me first just say, no one on the current city council ever voted for the existing map that was used to elect them. In my opinion, this is another very rotten apple from the council of yesteryear. What is so truly ironic, is that Debbie Stone, Gino Filippi and Carol Timm were all replaced, by the very map they approved for themselves.
And now this new council has some very hard choices to make and many options to consider. The Voting Rights Act was signed into federal law in 1964. It required creating voting districts encompassing geographically cohesive communities of minority citizens, where the majority of the population living in those districts, would be minority residents. These districts are called the majority-minority districts and in Upland, they are Districts 3 & 4. The creation of these districts, sought to remedy the problem of citywide at-large voting, where minority candidates had an extremely hard time winning an at-large election contest.
And Districts 3 & 4 have done just that and elected Rudy Zuniga, Ricky Felix and now Carlos Garcia. In addition to creating majority-minority districts, the city’s map must ensure equal representation of the population and do nothing to dilute the voting power of the protected class being Upland’s 43% Hispanic population, predominately living below Foothill Blvd. Despite this, Former Mayor Debbie Stone spearheaded a redistricting map where three councilmembers at that time, all resided in District 2, including herself. I think Debbie had to know she could never unseat her nemesis Janice Elliott and her only hope for remaining on council, was to preserve her at-large mayoral seat and let the special interest PAC money, keep her in office but Debbie completely underestimated Bill Velto!
Back in 2017, I was screaming from the rooftops that Debbie’s at-large mayoral seat, diluted the voting power of the protected class in Districts 3 & 4. That’s because if she had won, District 2 would have had 2 councilmembers who resided in District 2 and they would controlled 40% of city council and the other three districts, would only control 20% of the council, but would have 25% of the city’s population. And in my opinion, the city will remain open to a legal challenge from a member of the protected class, so long as the mayor resides in District 1 or 2.
Even Former City Attorney James Markman, on page 12 of a report given to the California League of Cities said, “The broad definition of at-large election systems in the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) can provide the basis for a prospective plaintiff to challenge a jurisdiction’s adoption of an at-large mayor position. The risk of such a challenge is higher if creating an at-large mayor seat would potentially dilute the voting power of a protected class.”
Even if the city could defend such a suit and prevail, the challenge itself would cost the city an absolutely fortune to defend. Let’s ask ourselves, why wouldn’t a Hispanic resident living in Upland’s majority-minority district, not allow the ACLU to file that lawsuit on their behalf for free? Let’s read the tea leaves here…….. if that person had any political aspirations, their name ID from that effort and their fighting spirit would resonate like a gong with Hispanic voters and they would have one hell of a chance, beating the incumbent in that seat.
In my opinion, until the city removes the possibility of such a challenge by creating a 5-district map, with a rotating mayor, all they are doing is kicking the can down the road, asking for trouble.
And let me just say, I recognize that changing to a rotating mayor seems unfair to Bill Velto and for that I’m sorry. It cost a fortune to run an at-large mayoral campaign and he didn’t create this problem, he simply inherited it and won the seat in a census year. THANKS DEBBIE! The silver lining would be if Bill had his own district of 15,873 residents to run for re-election in 2024, that’s a $10K campaign verses a city-wide 80,000 resident campaign, which can cost 10-times as much as a district race can.
It is my understanding if the council decided to go to 5 districts, Bill would remain the at-mayor until 2024 and would serve out his full term. It seems like a new 5-district map could be drawn where Janice, Shannan and Bill could each have a district of their own, should they wish to run for reelection when their terms expire. They must live far enough apart from each other, where that can happen. If not, the council could consider going to 7 districts, which is much more typical of a city with 80,000 residents.
It is important to understand that below Foothill will remain the majority-minority districts and the rest of the city would be equally divided by population, into equal sized districts, if the council so chooses. This isn’t rocket science but these items must be discussed and discussed now. The City of La Verne using the very same mapping consultant that Upland is using now, just went to 5-districts and changed their at-large mayor, to a rotating mayor, by adopting an ordinance by a 3 to 2 vote.
In the Daily Bulletin’s article here, the mapping consultant stated this about La Verne, “Having fewer than five council districts would reduce Latino voting strength in some parts of the city” and “a five-district map would better comply with the spirit of those laws (Voting Rights Act) than a four-district map.”
La Verne’s population is 31,000 and Upland’s is 80,000, think about that! My hope is that the councilmembers will at least explore all their options while on the dais on Monday night 1/10/22. God knows, Janice Elliott has been trying to get this issue on an agenda for years. Last time she tried, it was right after Bill, Shannan and Carlos were sworn in. Unfortunately, her request was tabled and has never been discussed, because she can’t get it on an agenda to have it discussed.
There was so much confusion regarding this issue that was created by Former City Attorney James Markman. But now is the time to gain clarity and ask questions. I’ve found nothing in the state statutes that says this can NOT be done by resolution or ordinance. A rotating Mayor simply means each of the council members gets to be the mayor, for typically a 12-month term. Or, the council can in the alternative, vote for one of them, to serve as the mayor.
The redistricting public hearing is Item 11A on page 66, HERE. Anyone can attend the meeting and sign up to speak about Item 11A, or they can participate remotely by emailing the city clerk at email@example.com by 4PM on 1/10/22. The subject line of your email should say “PUBLIC COMMENT” and include the meeting date, the agenda item you wish to speak about and of course, your name and phone number. You can also call the city clerk’s office at 909-931-4120 and give them all of the above too.
Whether you want to speak or not, I encourage you to watch Monday night’s meeting starting at 7PM at the link here or on Spectrum Cable TV Channel 3 & Frontier Cable TV Channel 26. Redistricting only happens every 10 years and will decide the future of Upland for the next decade. I truly feel badly for this new council but they were elected because they can make the hard decisions and I believe courage and logic will prevail.
In other news, we received a press release from resident Ken Mays about developing and establishing a comprehensive method of evaluating all of Upland’s Municipal Parks and the allocation of monies going to each. Participation in this project will be open to any resident of Upland ages 18 and older. Personally, I think it sounds like a great idea. Stay tuned for further announcements regarding this project. Please see the press release below.
Well folks that’s all for today. Hopefully there’ll be something to report after Monday’s public hearing. Until then, be well, stay safe and thanks for reading.
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