Multiple members of the Atwater City Council again voiced opposition to the city's move to districts for local elections before they picked a map for the new boundaries.
The map, which breaks the city of more than 29,000 into four districts, was approved with a 4-1 vote from the council on Monday. Councilman Brian Raymond cast the dissenting vote as he has with previous district-related votes.
Members of the council have said their hand is being forced and they're making the change grudgingly. Districts essentially limit voters on which council members they can approach with city business, some members of the council have argued.
"I'm going down kicking and screaming," Councilwoman Cindy Vierra said.
The change to districts was spurred by a June letter from the Malibu-based legal firm Shenkman & Hughes that threatened a lawsuit if the city did not voluntarily transition to districts.
In past elections, the city picked its mayor and four council members by citywide votes in "at-large elections.” About 53 percent of Atwater is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The sitting mayor and four council members are white.
The law firm argues the old system violates the state Voting Rights Act of 2001. Dan Hernandez, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for a council seat last year, called the plan "baloney," saying the council should have a "backbone" and fight the legal battle.
The city's consultant for the move to districts estimated Atwater could face at least $150,000 in legal fees without the promise of victory if the case went to court. Many other cities around the state have moved to districts, including Merced and Los Banos.
Modesto, which tried to fight the change to districts, lost a lawsuit in 2008 that cost taxpayers $3 million before the city was required to move to districts.
Fighting the move to districts is a lost cause, according to Tom Terpstra, Atwater's city attorney. "The city council has no real choice, no real option to go any way but district elections," he said.
Residents don't have to like it, but Atwater's future includes districts, Mayor Jim Price said.
"We're basically painted into a corner, and it's not a position I feel comfortable with at all," he said. "But, it is what it is."
The council picked the map called "orange," which is found here.