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Districting: A Critical Decision for Dana Point

BETTY HILL, Dana Point

Dana Point is being forced to make one of the most important decisions in its history: Whether Dana Point should create five voting districts to replace an at-large voting system for City Council. This decision must be made within weeks in response to a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit. Therefore, the April 3 City Council meeting is extremely critical for residents to attend.

Does Dana Point need districting? Facts show that districting won’t create a minority voting district in our city because of small and scattered minority populations. In fact, it would substantially reduce the voting impact of all Dana Point residents, who could vote for only one council member for their district every four years. Yet somehow, a majority of the City Council seems to be in a rush to adopt a voting system that hurts everyone.

I believe there are possible solutions being worked through by other cities, which would likely receive substantial support from the Dana Point community. It would create four districts for voters to elect one council member for their district and also elect an at-large mayor. People would be voting for two council members who would be accountable to them, rather than just one.

The Council and the City Attorney should be working for us: getting up-to-date facts and discussing with other cities solutions they are considering. Mission Viejo is negotiating for alternatives without districting. The city should more fully inform residents about the ramifications of this upcoming decision and ways to actually improve voting by our minority groups so that they can be effectively represented as they deserve. Dana Point’s minority populations are vital to the city’s diversity and culture.

The Council has already directed that maps for district boundaries be prepared. Districts are supposed to preserve communities within the city, not to create districts to promote Council candidates. However, this critical decision to create districts and boundaries could be approved by the vote of just three councilmen – such as Councilmen Viczorek, Tomlinson and Muller who may seek reelection this year.

Please attend the April 3 Council meeting or write the Council at .

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comments (8)

  • Excellent summary, Mr. Joshua, thank you. I’d like to emphasize your last point by repeating it:
    “Before we even start pouring over maps, the Council needs to do four things immediately: coordinate with Mission Viejo and other similarly placed cities to develop a joint strategy; commission the detailed demographic study its own demographer recommends as SOP; start good faith discussions with the lawyer (and his unidentified clients); hold a special open forum with the entire Council and allow full and open discussion with the community.”

  • Couple of facts Ms. Hill failed to mention:
    1) The CVRA has never been over turned in a court of law. Not once.
    2) The largest fine a city has every paid for being in violation of the CVRA was $4,500,000.
    3) Mission Viejo has not prevailed in their case and are incurring huge legal fees in their fight already. If they lose, they will also likely be liable for the fees incurred by the plantiff. This is money Dana Point simply doesn’t have.
    4) The City’s attorney has indicated that Dana Point will need to put aside millions should we decided to fight the case.
    5) The vast majority of people against redistricting live in Capistrano Beach. Thousands of residents in that neighborhood have unified through Capo Cares. Because there are no other groups like this in Dana Point, they are currently in a position to sway all elections. It makes absolutely no sense for one area to have so much influence over our city.

    • Ms Hill’s letter doesnt propose to overturn the CVRA or spend millions in litigation. Her comments point to the example of Mission Viejo, where the plaintiff attorney and the city have agreed to enter a “friendly lawsuit” that allows a judge to settle the case by preserving the rights and goals of both parties. CVRA lawsuits are not a one size fits all proposition in cities like Dana Point and Mission Viejo where districting wont solve minority representation issues. My neighbors in Monarch Beach and friends in Town Center also do not want to give up the political leverage of electing all council members thru at large voting.

      • That’s quite right, Steve. In legal terms, a CVRA suit can have multiple outcomes. Districting is not inevitable. While to establish liability (i.e, a violation) the plaintiffs do not have to show that a district can be drawn that gives a protected class a shot at winning,, such factors are very relevant when it comes to ‘remedies’.. Even where there is a violation, but there is no way to draw up a viable district that increases minority influence (because for instance the minority population is both small and dispersed), the Court will not force it on the City. And if the plaintiffs hare in good faith they won’t insist on districting if it’s going to dilute rather than strengthen minority voting power. The Court will order other ‘appropriate remedies’. However the City on its own can’t do that. To give legal force to a settlement on such lines, there has to be a court order, , and to get the judge’s approval, the plaintiff has to bring a ‘friendly’ law suit. That is what is happening in MV. The insults may be flying around but in the experience of many litigators, the posturing is most likely a prelude to settlement.

        • Thanks for the clarification about how a CVRA suit could be handled by Dana Point and the better way it is being handled by Mission Viejo. It is hard to understand City Attorney Patrick Munoz’s motivation to concede to the plaintiff so quickly, without extracting any concessions that would benefit Dana Point voters. Clearly Mission Viejo’s council and city attorney are doing a better job of representing and protecting their voters.

          Attorney Munoz’s haste to settle and lack of engagement on behalf of Dana Point voters makes me think his real motivation is to protect other interests. I can only hope that after the November 2018 election our council has the votes to find a new city attorney.

  • Bottom line Mission Viejo is in litigation and spending a great deal of money. I have never in my life heard of friendly litigation. I wonder who will end up paying the plaintiffs legal fees there? From what I understand their legal expenses will be mid to high six figures at the very minimum.

    Buck Hill and Councilwoman Lewis have consistently pointed out how dire the city’s financial position is. Once again I must ask why in the world they are now advocating that we expose ourselves to this extraordinary financial risk? Are there not better ways to invest our precious resources?

  • “Jolly” who actually seems rather grumpy, should have the courage to give his name and the source of his facts. Mission Viejo has apparently set aside $100,000 for legal fees — a small price to pay for our voting rights. We spent $1million in 4 lawsuits lost by our brilliant City Attorney who resorted to a shameful pretext that was called out by the Superior Court Judge. Aren’t our basic voting rights more worth fighting for than some Gates? Are you a voter or an incumbent, “jolly”? Most Dana Pointers appreciate council members who will fight for residents, not just their own self-interests.

  • Since the letter of intent to sue has become public, I have repeatedly, through letters to the City Council and City Attorney, Patrick Munoz, and through public comment at City Council meetings, voiced strong objection to the manner in which Mr. Munoz, from Rutan & Tucker, and the City Council have responded to the lettter alledging voter dilution and that the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

    A letter from a San Diego Attorney unknown in this field of practice allegedly representing an unnamed plaintiff, makes several allegations offering no facts to support his charges. This appears to be okay with our City Attorney who, in essence, recommend to the City Council that they should bypass the voting pattern studies recommended by professional demographers to determine if the city is, in fact, in violation of the CA Voting Rights Act, and simply start, ASAP, the process towards moving to district elections. Mr. Munoz had 45 days to respond to the letter in question, yet he rushed to respond in 15 days. By doing so, the 90 day “safe harbor” period was moved up so that, ideally, the districting issue would be resolved by mid-May, in plenty of time for the three incumbents to file their papers to run for office knowing they were in 3 separate districts. How convenient.

    As I have heard Mr. Munoz say on others issues, “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

    It is not too late for the City Council to authorize the demographer the City Attorney has hired to conduct the studies necessary to dertermine if, in fact, Dana Point’s voting history indicates voter dilution and any violations of the CA Voting Rights Act. This can be done concurrently with the community meetings and public hearings already in progress. From my perspective, it is malfeasance not to do the work required to determine if Dana Point is in violation of the CA Voting Rights Act, which is the only way the City Council May make an informed decision on whether the city should pursue districting.

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