The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San), the sewer service provider for most of the San Ramon Valley, has been hit with a petition to change its election method to by-division voting after it received a letter claiming its current election method violates the California Voting Rights Act.
Set to be discussed during a public meeting of Central San's Board of Directors on Thursday, agency leaders plan to publicly respond to the letter and will consider changing the district’s electoral system from at-large to by-division -- also known as district-based voting.
"The letter did not provide any evidence of a violation, but the district takes the assertions in the letter very seriously and is considering appropriate action. The letter threatens litigation if the district does not adopt a by-division election system," Central San staff said in a statement.
It should be noted that if the board decides to proceed with approving by-division elections, the change would not go into effect until after the upcoming Nov. 3 election. This fall, six candidates are running for three at-large board seats: incumbents Paul Causey, Jim Nejedly and Tad Pilecki, and newcomers Barbara Hockett, Nathan Jaquez and Mariah Lauritzen.
Under the current method of at-large voting, Central San residents are entitled to vote for every candidate for the Board of Directors.
In a by-division election system, residents will only vote for a candidate who lives within their geographic district, essentially meaning residents can only vote for one board seat every four years, instead of all available board candidates every two years as is the case under at-large voting.
While the exact violation was not listed out in the letter, several other Tri-Valley agencies have been petitioned to change their electoral method in a similar manner, with groups citing alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act. Those petitions claimed that at-large voting for elections cause racially polarized voting and limits the voting power of minority groups.
When his city was transitioning to district based voting last year, San Ramon city attorney Martin Lysons said that the California Voting Rights Act is a particularly powerful provision of the state government and that no Californian municipality has ever successfully defended at-large elections when faced with litigation.
Central San services the communities of Alamo, Danville and northern San Ramon, as well as Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.
Members of the public interested in providing public comment for the meeting can email [email protected] either before or during the meeting or can leave a voice message by calling 229-7303 at least one hour prior to the start of the meeting.
Central San's meeting of the Board of Directors is set to be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. Residents can view the meeting online at centralsan.org.