.Santa Cruz City Council to Let Voters Choose Between New District Election Systems

In June, Santa Cruz voters will weigh in on whether the city should create six districts, each represented by its own council member, and if voters should be able to directly elect the city’s at-large mayor.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council decided in a 5-2 vote to place this measure on the June 7 ballot. 

Discussions about transitioning from the current system of at-large voting to district elections were prompted after threats of a lawsuit, which alleged that the city violated the California Voting Rights Act and council was underrepresented by people of Latinx heritage. The City reached a settlement agreement in May 2020, avoiding the lawsuit by agreeing to transition to district elections by the November 2022 election.

Since then, the city has been collecting public input to create draft maps for seven districts, and in March council is expected to decide on a district map. 

By the November election, this seven-district voting system will go into effect—unless voters opt to pass the June ballot measure to adopt six districts and an at-large elected mayor.

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There are a few key changes included in the ballot measure voters will see in June that differ from what otherwise would be implemented. Among them are: 

  • The mayor would be elected by city voters instead of the council and would serve a four-year term, instead of a one-year term which is the status quo. 
  • The June ballot measure would create six districts, each with its own council member who must reside in the district he or she represents, instead of seven districts. 
  • Council members could run for mayor immediately after two terms as councilmembers. Mayors could also run for a district seat immediately after two terms as mayor. Neither the council members nor the mayor could serve for more than 16 consecutive years in office.

Multiple people who called in during the city meeting asked for more time that could allow for public input on the ballot measure.  

“This is a big change to our city. This is something that we desperately need to have more time to talk about,” said Anne Simonton. “It’s imperative that we not do it in June, it should be in November at the very earliest and a lot more discussion.”

Councilmembers Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown, who were the two dissenting votes, also mentioned insufficient public input during their no votes. 

“The public should have ample time to weigh in on this issue,” said Cummings. “This is the first time any of this language is coming forward to our community, and given the impact to our democracy, it makes sense to have community input on this as well.” 

Councilmember Donna Meyers and others who voted yes pushed back on this sentiment, saying that bringing this issue to the voters will give the public an alternative to the otherwise inevitable seven district election system. 

“We are moving to district elections,” said Meyers. “The most important process is to always go to your voters when you need a major decision made. That is the ultimate way that we should be serving our constituents: we bring the question to them.”

For information about the ballot measure and the city’s transition to district elections, click here.

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Aiyana Moya
News Editor
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