Four maps for dividing Los Banos in preparation for by-district elections are up for review, with the city facing a tight deadline for the November ballot.
The city is asking the public to review the four proposed boundaries on its website, www.losbanos.org, and in fliers being mailed to residents. City Manager Steve Carrigan said he is hoping members of the public share their preferences at a July 2 or July 16 City Council meeting, as well as a special meeting July 30.
The city is facing an Aug. 8 deadline for submitting a measure for the November ballot asking voters to approve a by-district voting method.
“We have such a tight timeline,” Carrigan said.
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The city, which now holds elections through an at-large method (meaning voters can vote for each of the five council slots) was threatened with a lawsuit May 13 in a letter on behalf of the Community Advocacy Coalition, a local civil rights group.
At issue is the lack of Latino representation on the council. Sixty-eight percent of the total population of Los Banos is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, none of the five members of the City Council is Hispanic and many believe there has never been an Hispanic City Council member in Los Banos’ 107-year existence. The Community Advocacy Coalition says Los Banos is in violation of the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.
Los Banos officials are pursuing the ballot measure to avoid a lawsuit, which could cost the city up to $500,000. Members of the Community Advocacy Coalition have expressed concern about submitting the issue to voters. They believe the council could change the voting method based on their interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.
“We believe it is a ‘may,’ not a must,” said Community Advocacy Coalition spokesman Julian Mancias.
On June 5, Mancias told the Enterprise his group is worried that council members may publicly support the ballot measure, but in one-on-one conversations with voters they could speak against it. He said a vote by the council imposing by-district elections would prevent a whisper campaign.
Carrigan said the interpretation of the law the city received from outside counsel mandates an election be held.
“The law’s pretty clear, it’s ‘at the the next municipal election,’ ” Carrigan said.
In a telephone interview, Mancias said Carrigan has informed his group of the city’s stance. He said his group will meet with its lawyer this week to see if there is agreement on the interpretation of the state law.
Carrigan, who has met with Community Advocacy Coalition members a handful of times in the past two months, said he does not believe holding an election will get much resistance from the group.
“I would be surprised if they fight us on this. We’re doing the right thing,” Carrigan said.
If by-district elections are put in place, each council member will represent a district, with the mayoral seat remaining under the at-large system. By-district voting would not occur until the 2016 election.