Ontario California’s Looming CA VRA Problem.

    Ontario California will have an election for City Council this November. Problem is there are only two seats and many candidates running. With only 1 Latino on the council and a population that is highly Latino we might end up with a challenge in the near future by interest groups such as political parties or advocacy groups serving the Latino community seeking redresses.

    School boards and city councils in Ontario are facing the reality of the California Voter Rights Act, a law passed in 2002 that makes it easy for minority groups to sue when they are not being fairly represented in at-large elections. The problem with the California Voter Rights Act is that government agencies are required to pay all court and legal costs to the winning party even if they settle before a verdict is decided which cities cannot afford these days. The city of Modesto is facing an estimated lawsuit cost of three million dollars in defending their CA VRA challenge. Many of the sued governmental bodies have came across using districts as their solution for CA VRA compliance.

    Ontario has traditionally not had many Latino representatives in the past. Before Mayor Leon we had Rudy Favila as a city council member recently. Groups such as the San Bernardino County Democratic Party would like to use the CA VRA to force change in the city of Ontario.

    District elections do have its advantages where the issues of a smaller subset of voter’s political candidates have to target and campaigns would be cheaper if the city council candidates are selected by the district itself. However the problem with district elections is the representatives do not usually focus on the city itself as often where they only want to focus on what is good for their district.

    However I would suggest what Newport Beach does and elect our candidates by districts, but have them voted on by the entire city. This would make sure we would have candidates from various parts of our city instead of just the North West as an example. If candidates are voted on by the entire city then the candidates would be beholden to the voters of the entire city instead.

    Only thing I do not like about the CA VRA is that it is highly difficult to change a city’s voting system when they are a general law city. There should be an easier way to switch the governance of a city when faced with the risk of a CA VRA lawsuit. Maybe the city should consider a charter review committee to obtain blueprints for a possible city charter.

    Currently our city council members are dominated in the southern end of the city with only 1 of the 4 living in the north if we do not include the mayor. If we migrated out to a district system it would likely be where 1 of the 2 members would be crowded out. However I do not have the geographical information systems tools to figure out what an ideal redistricting map would entail.

    Expanding the city council would make it easier for new perspectives to be heard, better representation for the population of our city and for the chance to end the at large elections where if you vote for two candidates your favorite candidate would be crowded out or possibly eliminated if you voted for a second choice.

    District elections may be tempting as an easier way to meet the requirements of CA VRA, but it might be better for us to do cumulative voting instead. The city of Escondido is moving on to this form of voting thanks to the group Escondido’s future. So if we have two seats in the city council for example in this election, we could award 2 votes to 1 candidate, or give 1 vote to each of the two favorite candidates or none at all. This might be easier than making districts for our city council and be more effective in the long run. If a Latino runs, then Latinos might do block voting and give all their votes to that candidate as an example. Adding two more seats, so we would have 3 seats open instead of 2 in an election would also be a plus too.

    It is great that we have a strong Latino candidate running such as Ruben Valencia, but I appreciate the contributions from candidates such as Debra Porada who is one of the lead facilitators to bring local control for the Ontario Airport. It would stink to lose her input due to the at large musical chairs. While we should do our best to field qualified candidates from all demographic groups to represent our city.

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