DSRSD set to change election method

District-based elections to divide boundaries into five board areas

As various San Ramon Valley public agencies begin overhauling their election systems, the Dublin San Ramon Services District is the most recent organization to announce its intent to transition from at-large voting for governing board seats to district-based elections.

In order to give community members the opportunity to participate in the process of establishing the new voting method, the DSRSD will hold a series of public hearings over the next several months, with the first slated to occur on this Tuesday in San Ramon.

Choosing to make the transition in order to comply with a petition citing the California Voting Rights Act, switching to district elections -- also known as an area-based election system -- will mean residents only vote for the lone DSRSD board member in their designated residential region, as opposed to all residents choosing to vote from all candidates at-large.

The change essentially means residents only vote for one candidate every four years, instead of each available seat every two years as is the case under at-large voting.

DSRSD officials are looking to draw five maps across their service district -- which provides water and wastewater services in Dublin and parts of San Ramon -- and are seeking public input on how to best draw those maps. DSRSD also provides sewer service to Pleasanton by contract, but Pleasanton residents don't vote for DSRSD board seats because the city is technically outside DSRSD boundaries.

“Public comment is welcome on such things as whether to take into account boundaries for cities or other governmental entities within the district, geographic features such as roads or hills, and communities of interest, such as neighborhoods, common assets like schools and shopping areas, housing, culture and language, and employment,” DSRSD officials wrote in a statement.

In order to help facilitate public input from the community, DSRSD staff, along with Wagaman Strategies, have created a map dividing the district into 36 different geographic units called slices. Each slice is listed with relevant information such as population size, race/ethnicity makeup and services provided, in order to help the community help the board form five areas that have similar interests.

The DSRSD Board of Directors unanimously adopted a resolution stating its intent to make the transfer at its Jan. 15 meeting, with the goal of completing its process by May 7.

DSRSD officials decided to make the change after receiving a “demand letter” petition on Nov. 5 from Walnut Creek-based attorney Scott Rafferty, on behalf of the Bay Area Voting Rights Initiative, demanding that the agency do so.

Rafferty cited the 2002 California Voting Rights Act, which seeks to ban any election system “that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”

The CVRA further exposes agencies to litigation if they practice an at-large election system, claiming that it does violate the rights of protected classes -- residents who are members of a race, color or language minority group.

The Rafferty petition was also addressed to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, the city of San Ramon, the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District and the town of Danville -- all of which also have at-large representative elections.

The DSRSD Board of Directors will first meet to discuss district elections Tuesday, 6 p.m. at the Alcosta Senior Community Center, Garden View Room, 9300 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon.

They board plans to hold at least three more after that. The current schedule is as follows:

* Feb. 19, 6 p.m., The Wave, Community Room, 4201 Central Parkway, Dublin.

* March 19, 6 p.m., Dougherty Station Community Center, Front Row Theater, 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon.

* April 2, 6 p.m., Shannon Community Center, Ambrose Hall, 11600 Shannon Ave., Dublin.

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