After six months of crafting a plan to overhaul the city’s election method and transition from at-large to district-based voting, San Ramon City Council members have approved the map that will be used to divide up the city for future elections and set June 25 as the date they will cast their final vote to approve the transition.
Once the transition is complete, under district elections residents in San Ramon will only vote for the lone council candidate who lives in their geographical area, as opposed to the current practice of at-large elections where residents vote for all available candidates. Resulting in residents only voting for one councilmember every four years, instead of each available seat every two years.
“Essentially the heavy lifting has been done and the decisions have been made,” City Attorney Martin Lysons said at Tuesday’s regular council meeting. “And this ordinance pretty much memorializes, and puts it into code, the decisions that you have already made to adopt Plan Red.”
By Plan Red, Lysons is referring to the map that has been selected by the council to divide up the city into four distinct geographic districts -- one for each sitting councilmember -- which will indicate which council candidate a resident can vote for.
At their regular meeting on Tuesday, the council approved setting June 25 as the date for final adoption by a vote of 3-1 -- councilman Scott Perkins did not attend the meeting. While the majority of councilmembers in attendance voted in the affirmative -- the lone dissenting vote came from Sabina Zafar who favored a different map from Plan Red -- they did so reluctantly, voicing a variety of concerns that may arise from practicing district-based elections.
“I want it to be clear that it is my belief that without the lawsuit we would not be moving toward district elections and I would, if I had the discretion, I would not allow us to move toward district elections,” Mayor Bill Clarkson said at the meeting. “I think district elections, even with the best of intentions, can be very divisive. Everywhere you see district elections you see neighborhoods, especially on very controversial issues, pitted against one another and I view that as not a great thing.”
The transition to district-based elections was first initiated when the city received a letter by attorney Scott Rafferty on behalf of the Bay Area Voting Rights Initiative, requesting that the city do so and threatening litigation if the council denied the switch. The petition further stated its motivation was to give greater representation to San Ramon’s residents who are members of a protected class -- residents who are members of a race, color or language minority group.
Rafferty was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, and congratulated the council on completing a difficult process, saying “ultimately this is about the voters, this isn’t about you (the council) and we should focus on those voters.”
The lone dissenting vote on Tuesday came from the lone councilmember who openly supported the transition to district election’s Sabina Zafar, who supported an alternative division of the city to the one presented in Plan Red.
“I am in favor of district elections absolutely and the reason being we have different schools different neighborhoods where there are community members which really do serve those communities and I would love to see a PTA mom on this council I would love to see a community organizer… that is true representation,” she said. “In the end we all care. We still live in different neighborhoods but we all care about San Ramon as a larger city because we do not exist in silos.”
Zafar added that she believes the council’s oversight of the creation of district’s represented a conflict of interests, and future maps should be drawn with the oversight of a committee independent from the council.
Councilman Phil O’Loane voiced his displeasure at the process during Tuesday’s meeting saying; “I think it ought to be difficult to serve on the council. This is not a walk in the park doing this.”
“This is no piece of cake, this is a $100 million business. We make decisions about police about firing police about hiring police, we consider social issues that I consider very important, we do a lot of stuff here,” he continued. “The PTA serves a wonderful function, but running a PTA and serving on the council are vastly different things. And having an entire community figure out who the right folks are to do it, to me is a good thing.”
Due to all population and demographic data used for Plan Red having been gathered using information from the 2010 census, districts will most likely need to be redrawn by the council once more up-to-date information is collected from the 2020 census.
Final financial costs incurred by the city during the transition to district-based elections are expected to have cost approximately $120,000 to cover a demographer, elections consultant and special legal counsel, according to Lysons. The city has also agreed to reimburse up to $30,000 in attorney’s fees to Raffery.
In other business
*Several residents addressed the council during the meeting’s public comment session and requested the city issue a proclamation officially recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month.
“As president of the chapter I can tell you that we get new family members showing up every month at our meetings looking for support for their kids and these kids need a visible sign a symbol of support from their community," said Jacquie Guzzo president of the Danville/San Ramon Chapter of PFLAG -- an organization of parents, families and friends who work to support those in the LGBTQ community.
“Unfortunately they see and hear many messages that make them feel less than the dignity and sense of equality that all their peers enjoy. We just need to make sure that all of these kids are loved and supported because their health and well-being depends on it,” she continued.
Guzzo was joined by several other residents who spoke in support of the proclamation, which was given to the council later that evening for their consideration at a future date.
*During a special presentation the council honored 14 year old Dougherty Valley High School freshman Geetika Kodali, who is currently one of the youngest players on the USA Cricket national women’s team.
Currently Team USA is fighting for a spot in the International Cricket Council’s Women’s Cricket World Cup, and last month swept Canada in a three day match during the Americas World Cup Qualifiers. Later this summer Kodali will be headed to Scotland, where Team USA will continue their quest for the cup.
*The council also greeted the city’s newest public works employees, Jose Sanchez-Figueroa, Richard Gregori and John Murphy.