Search This Blog

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sunnyvale Going to District Elections - Part 1

Part 1 of a series on Sunnyvale's move to district elections.  This has basic info related to the City Council meeting that started the move to district elections.
Link to this page you are reading

Part 2 is here - discussing some of the implications:

Part 3 is here with the letter of complaint from a legal firm

Wed., September 5th at 7 PM, there will be a special Sunnyvale City Council Meeting to discuss going to district elections.  Location:  Council Chambers, City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Currently all 7 council members are elected at large.  This makes it difficult for those without much money as they need to get their message to 60,000 voters.  Going to district elections would mean that a candidate will only need to reach about 8,500 voters or about 4,000 homes.  This is much more affordable.

The city basically has no choice in the matter.  If it does not do this it will likely get sued under the California Voting Rights Act as has happened to Santa Clara and several other cities.  The courts have consistently ruled against cities who tried to fight the issue.

The agenda has much more information.  It is available here:
Look for City Council Agenda for 9/05/2018.

I've copied some of the highlights below:

-------------  begin partial copy of Sunnyvale City Council Agenda for 9/5/2018 -------

Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections

1. 18-0776 (link to detailed discussion)

Recommendation: Alternative 1: Direct staff to scope a public outreach and education plan for receiving public input on whether the Council should place a measure on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide whether to amend the City Charter to change from at-large with numbered seats to district-based elections, and return to Council by November 2018 for approval of the outreach plan and resources necessary to implement that plan.


Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections


Cities throughout the state have increasingly been facing legal challenges to “at-large” systems of electing city councilmembers. The California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) was adopted to address vote dilution caused by at-large election systems in the presence of racially polarized voting. Almost all cities challenged under the CVRA have settled claims out of court by voluntarily shifting to district-based elections. In the Bay Area, cities including, among others, Fremont, Menlo Park, and Morgan Hill, have recently switched to district-based elections.

This issue made headlines in our neighboring city of Santa Clara over the last several months. Santa Clara, which has a charter provision with an at-large, numbered-seat system nearly identical to Sunnyvale’s system, was sued by the South Asian Law Alliance claiming that the system violated the CVRA by diluting the vote of Asian voters. Santa Clara chose to litigate the issue and the case went to trial in April 2018. The Santa Clara County superior court judge agreed with plaintiffs, holding that Santa Clara’s system violated the CVRA. The second phase of the trial to determine remedies was held in July 2018, and the court ordered Santa Clara to shift to district-based elections (six districts and a separately-elected mayor) beginning in November 2018.

Although most cities that have changed their electoral systems have done so under the threat of CVRA litigation, staff is bringing this issue forward and recommending that the Council make the voluntary choice to submit the issue to Sunnyvale voters as a charter amendment to comply with the CVRA’s disfavor of at-large electoral systems and eliminate the City’s exposure to litigation. The fact that Santa Clara’s substantially similar system was recently struck down makes this issue timely for the Council’s consideration. As discussed in detail below, Sunnyvale would likely face a high burden if sued, CVRA litigation is tremendously costly, and the outcome of litigation would be highly uncertain. Voluntarily initiating the process to switch to by-district elections will give the Council greater flexibility to determine the process, and the community greater opportunity for input, than the City would have if CVRA litigation is threatened or commenced.

-------------  end partial copy of Sunnyvale City Council Agenda for 9/5/2018 -------