map of  Elk Grove district boundaries

Pictured is a map of the Elk Grove City Council’s current district boundaries.

The Elk Grove City Council on Oct. 9 selected three boundary maps to consider as part of its process of changing the way that voters elect Council members.

A resolution passed by the council in August declared the city’s intent to transition to the by-district voting system, in which voters only choose among candidates running in their local council districts.

In previous elections, council members were elected by voters across the city, and each member represented a council district. That system is called, “from-district.”

By passing the resolution of intent to transition to by-district voting, the council avoided potential litigation. The resolution came before the council during their Aug. 28 meeting as a result of a letter that was sent to the city by Kevin Shenkman, the Malibu civil rights attorney known for threatening to sue cities that do not hold by-district elections.

It is alleged in the letter that the city’s voting method results in the dilution of the Latino vote in Elk Grove and prevents them from getting candidates of their choice on the City Council.

Supporters of by-district elections believe the system would encourage more candidates of diverse backgrounds to run in council elections, since campaigns can be smaller and more affordable.

As part of the city’s process to move to by-district elections in 2020, the council will review and vote to select one of the three district boundary maps that they selected as options during their Oct. 23 meeting.

City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs said that the council could also vote not to support any of those maps, at which point another vote on map options would be required.

One of the selected map options is to keep the current district map, while another is to select a map, which shows anticipated growth within the city.  

Council Member Pat Hume described the third map option, which features alterations to the divided growth map.

“To clarify, (changes from that map) would be everything west of the railroad tracks goes back into District 1 from District 4, and everything south of Elk Grove Boulevard, east of the railroad tracks, goes back to District 4 from District 1,” he said.

Many of the public speakers during the Oct. 9 meeting expressed a desire for the council to select the current district map for the 2020 election.

Although there are four council seats, only two council district elections will be held in the upcoming election.

Council Member Darren Suen is currently the only declared candidate for the District 1 election.

The other council election will be the election for the District 3 seat, which is currently held by Steve Detrick. Those who plan to run for that seat are Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease and Maureen Craft, who ran for the same seat against Detrick in 2016.

Detrick told the Citizen last week that he is undecided whether he will run for re-election next year.

The by-district system does not affect the mayoral election, as the mayor will continue to be directly elected by voters across the city.  

Although Shenkman alleged that the city’s current voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, there has been no finding that the city violated that act or any other law protecting residents’ right to vote.

However, if the city decided to engage in the process of defending its “from-district” system, such litigation could have cost the city millions of dollars in legal fees.

In a well-publicized legal battle against Shenkman, the city of Palmdale spent about $7 million defending its voting system before finally switching to the by-district system in 2015.

Prior to the council’s adoption of the by-district resolution, Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly continuously advocated for a change to the “by-district” option, while the four council members expressed their desire to retain the “from-district” system.

During the Oct. 9 council meeting, Detrick expressed his frustration with the pressure to change to the by-district system.

“It’s not being done in a fair manner,” he said. “It is being done with a gun to our head, and that’s the part that I find very, very offensive.”