In order to clarify and to provide facts surrounding the City’s change from at-large to district-based elections I would like to offer the following information on the history of the district voting ordinance as unanimously approved by the Tehachapi City Council, and the petitions seeking a referendum recently received by the Tehachapi City Clerk’s office. Those petitions were rejected as they did not meet the basic legal standards for a ballot referendum.
History of District-Based Elections
The initial proposal to convert to district-based elections for the five-member City Council came at the request of attorney Richard Shenkman of Shenkman & Hughes in Malibu, California. Mr. Shenkman has an extensive background in litigation against municipalities, school districts, water districts and many other community-elected boards that are not using a district-based system in accordance with the California Voting Rights Act.
The proposed ordinance and districts were discussed at four public hearings with three maps produced by demographer Justin Levitt of National Demographics Corporation. Each map included population statistics and geographical boundaries and was on display during these public hearings, and at five advertised locations around the City (City Hall, City Hall Annex, Tehachapi Police Department, Tehachapi Senior Center and Tehachapi Visitor’s Center). An interactive map, which allowed residents to type in their address in order to identify which district they resided in for each proposed map, was also available on the website www.tehachapicityhall.com.
It was unanimously agreed upon by the City Council that compliance with Mr. Shenkman’s request in order to save the City a costly legal battle, and to ensure compliance with the California Voting Rights Act, was necessary in this matter and district-based elections were established.
On December 4, 2017, the City Council voted 5-0 to transition to district-based elections and adopt what was known as the “purple map” to establish voting districts. These districts met the requirements for population distribution, and as allowed by law, separated each sitting City Council member into a separate district. There was not any objection from the public, written or oral, given to the adopted map in any of the public hearings.
On January 2, 2018 a Tehachapi resident turned in several petitions signed by members of the community seeking to not only overturn Ordinance No. 17-07-745, but also have the district-based election maps put on the next general election ballot. As is the case with all petitions, they were reviewed by an outside legal expert. Legal counsel traveled to Tehachapi to review the petitions and discovered the following which was communicated to the petition circulators:
“The referendum petition does not contain the full text of the ordinance or portion of the ordinance subject to referendum. Elections Code Section 9238(b) requires:
b) Each section of the referendum petition shall contain (1) the identifying number or title, and
2) the text of the ordinance or portion of the ordinance that is the subject of the referendum."
The ordinance number stated three times in the petition is incorrect and incomplete, and no section or page of the petition contains the full text of Ordinance No. 17- 07- 745 or any portion of the ordinance that is subject to referendum. The partial citation of some sections that the Ordinance added to the Municipal Code, with ellipses following that partial citation, is incomplete and creates substantial confusion among the voters as to the contents and intent of the ordinance the City Council adopted.
Further, the failure to include the City Council District Map adopted by the ordinance and referenced in the mentioned Section 2. 10. 020 of the Municipal Code also makes the petition incomplete and confusing. The purpose of Elections Code Section 9238 is to inform the voters and avoid confusion. This omission completely defeats the purpose of the statutory requirement and, when the purpose of a statute is frustrated, the Elections Official has a mandatory duty to reject the petition.”
Legal counsel’s findings were based in previous case law on similar matters. The petitions did not meet the requirements to advance to the signature verification stage.
Response to Petition:
The City elections official will assist members of the community seeking a petition referendum by providing the proper Government Codes in order to compile legal petitions. No such contact or request for assistance in composing the petitions in question were ever made by the group contrary to their recent statements in the media. The only visits to City Hall were on January 2, 2018 when the petitions were turned in and on January 24th, when the petitions were returned after being rejected. There was also never any email or phone contact about this matter.
As is the case with each City Council ordinance, referendums are limited to 30 days following the date of adoption. With that 30 days having expired, ordinance No. 17-07-745 is now in effect.
Elections Moving Forward:
With the City Council now subject to district-based voting, the 2018 general election will include the election of councilmembers in districts one, four and five. The remaining councilmembers will continue to serve as at-large members until districts two and three are up for election in 2020.
Residents are allowed to vote for candidates within their voting district and each candidate for election must reside within the district where they are seeking election. This is similar to district-based voting for County Supervisors, members of the State Legislature and members of Congress.
Tehachapi city residents can utilize the interactive map here to better inform themselves about the district lines and the district in which they live.
Following the 2020 Census, should populations drastically change in any district, the City Council and the public, will have the opportunity to redraw district lines.
Should you have any questions about this or any process, please feel free to contact me at City Hall or City Manager Greg Garrett.
City of Tehachapi Elections Official