Merced City Council converts to district elections
The proposed "Palma" map for City-Council district elections, pushed by a number of speakers at last week's Merced City Council meeting, was rejected by the council. Council members inquired why South Merced residents would want a district map that included two South Merced districts, each of which bulged across the highway and railroad tracks into Downtown Merced.
Mayor Stan Thurston pointed out that it could defeat the alleged purpose of the district maps to distribute council seats equally among different parts of the city and that South Merced could end up being represented by two council members from downtown or central Merced.
Arguments from the Palma-map proponents that actually the downtown residential sections were closely linked to South Merced were bogus and were rejected.
We were left wondering why the Palma-map proponents were so solidly behind their map and deaf to the argument that they could end up with both council members from downtown rather than South Merced. Their response was simply to send up more speakers to say they wanted the Palma plan rather than the other plan, period.
Observers were left wondering if they were not just a bunch of spoiled kids stamping their feet or if they actually had an argument they were not sharing with the public for tactical reasons.
In any event, the council voted for the map that contains two wholly South Merced districts.
When it came to North Merced districts, a comic political minuet took place because -- proving the point of the lawsuit that brought about district elections -- all the members of the council were from North Merced and somehow, some way, someone's toes were going to be stepped on. The ensuing "council comments" were slightly less orderly than Holsteins organizing themselves outside the milk barn. -- blj
Merced has its local elections map
A split Merced City Council picks the NDC map for both halves of the city
The odd-numbered districts will be up in November 2016
Councilman Mike Murphy won’t be allowed to run for re-election in 2016
A map of city council districts chosen for future elections keeps the downtown business community together but has disappointed south Merced residents who worry it dilutes the strength of their neighborhood’s core.
The Merced City Council voted 6-1 late Monday to adopt a map that divides the city into six districts that will each have its own council representative. The city was pressured to replace its at-large election process with representative districts under threat of a lawsuit by Latino groups who alleged the current system was unfair. While Merced’s population is about half Latino, none of the six council members are Latino or live in predominantly Latino south Merced.
With the council chambers packed to capacity Monday night with many south Merced residents, the council rejected a map known as “Palma” that was proposed by representatives of Building Healthy Communities, the Merced Organizing Project and Communities for a New California. Instead, it approved a map designed by the Claremont-based National Demographics Corp., which based its districts on key neighborhoods and major roadways.
The approved map keeps the downtown neighborhood united and forms two districts in south Merced, one that includes Merced Municipal Airport and another that groups the residents living east of Highway 59 with those living east of Highway 99 and south of Highway 140.
Councilman Noah Lor cast the dissenting vote, saying he was swayed by the number of residents who spoke in favor of the Palma proposal.
I THINK THAT KIND OF DISREGARD IS WHAT LED TO WHY WE’RE HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Matthew Barragan, an attorney from Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Though Palma had the most outspoken support from south Merced residents during the meeting and throughout much of the map-drawing process, the council picked the other map. That’s a fitting example of why districts are needed, said Matthew Barragan, an attorney from Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the group that threatened a lawsuit and pushed Merced to make the move to districts.
“I think that kind of disregard is what led to why we’re here in the first place,” he said.
During the public comment session of Monday’s meeting, resident after resident spoke in favor of the Palma map, which would have created a south Merced district running roughly between Q Street and Tyler Road, which many described as the heart of their community. The council remained unconvinced, saying the map it chose will create two districts in south Merced, potentially giving the area even more representation.
“I think (NDC) has a much better chance of achieving what the goal is,” Councilman Michael Belluomini said.
The NDC map also benefited at the meeting from the support of representatives from the Downtown Neighborhood Association and the Merced Main Street Association, coalitions of homeowners and business owners, respectively.
Cindy Morse, a member of the neighborhood association, said she was pleased the council kept her neighborhood intact. She also said she believes the map will benefit south Merced more than the Palma map ever could.
I THINK OUR MAP ACTUALLY HELPS (SOUTH MERCED).
Cindy Morse, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association
She agreed with Belluomini’s assessment. “I think our map actually helps (south Merced),” she said.
Communities for a New California, a nonprofit that works to get residents involved in the community and local government, has been walking through south Merced monthly to get residents interested in the districts and other city workings. A large portion of the residents at Monday’s meeting were approached by the nonprofit.
Pablo Rodriguez, the nonprofit’s executive director, released a statement after the decision by the council. “Council members chose to turn a deaf ear to overwhelming, full-throated support for (the) Palma map by those in attendance (Monday),” the statement said.
He said the vote was a demonstration of the lack of representation residents of south Merced face when attempting to influence public policy. He said the upside of the vote is that Merced has made the move to districts.
UNDER THE DISTRICT SYSTEM, HALF OF THE COUNCIL WILL BE UP FOR ELECTION EVERY TWO YEARS. THE ODD-NUMBERED DISTRICTS WILL ELECT REPRESENTATIVES IN NOVEMBER 2016. THE EVEN-NUMBERED ONES WILL BE ON THE BALLOT IN 2018.
The vote was closer when it came to the northern districts, though few residents at the meeting spoke about those proposals. A map also designed by NDC was chosen on a 4-3 vote. Lor again cast a “no” vote, this time accompanied by Belluomini and Councilman Kevin Blake.
All six members of the council live north of Bear Creek.
Under the district system, half of the council will be up for election every two years. The odd-numbered districts will elect representatives in November 2016. The even-numbered ones will be on the ballot in 2018.
Districts 1 and 3 are in south Merced, while 5 is in north Merced. Councilman Tony Dossetti, whose term ends in 2016 and is in District 5, made the motion.
The even-numbered districts will be represented by at-large members until 2018.
Murphy lives in District 6, which will not be up for election until 2018, so his term ends in 2016. He could run again in 2018 or run for mayor in 2016.
Murphy floated an idea to randomly pick districts, but the city attorney advised against that.
Murphy said he is OK with the outcome. “What I care about is not having this council put its thumb on the scales,” he said.