County Supervisors might not be the only ones with radically different elections going forward, as the Los Osos Community Services District board is also weighing major changes.
Currently, all five LOCSD board members face election in a community-wide vote every 4 years. But the winds of change are blowing up a storm in Los Osos and the CSD is seriously looking at switching to a district-based voting scheme.
LOCSD General Manager Ron Munds said the board voted to approve a district-wide election format in response to “The California Voting Rights Act,” the State’s voting equity law.
That means a city, county or CSD must investigate whether there are any “protected (minority) populations living huddled within a jurisdiction and then change to a district-style election format to ensure those communities aren’t divided up to diminish their voting strength.
The law leaves open the possibility of lawsuits being filed to challenge whether or not an agency is violating the voting rights of a protected population (i.e. minority communities within a jurisdiction).
In Los Osos, they had a consultant look over the demographics using the latest Census information to discern whether there were such pockets of peoples in Los Osos. Turns out there weren’t.
“The protected class of voters,” Munds said, “is well dispersed through the community. The problem is that doesn’t protect the CSD from lawsuits since the only ‘safe harbor’ is districting. So it is a Board decision to gamble on whether or not receiving we will receive a demand letter. If a demand letter is received, it is an automatic $30,000 payment to the claimant and attorney.”
In essence to avoid someone filing a predatory lawsuit, similar to suits over the Americans with Disabilities Act, they have to make the change.
So the LOCSD in January will decide whether to switch to districts, a decision that could have consequences with future elections, because the CSD has trouble finding candidates to run for office.
Indeed, in November 2020, the CSD didn’t even have an election, and adding a requirement that each voting district be represented by someone who lives within that district could make matters even trickier.
“A candidate will have to live within the voting area boundary,” Munds said, “which will be interesting to see how that works out considering we didn’t have an election in 2020 since there were the exact number of candidates running as there were seats.”
With no contested races on the ballot, Los Osos didn’t get to vote for any CSD members in 2020.
The new districts have been drawn in such a way that each of the five current board members lives in one of the districts, with no overlap. So when 2022 comes around, none of the incumbents has to bow out due to the new district boundaries.
“There are three seats up for re-election in November 2022,” Munds said, “and each of the current three incumbents will be able to run for their particular district if they choose. If the Board decides to choose a map where there is overlap, the Board would decide on a sequencing plan that is more involved in terms of explanation.”
But the board could also in January choose to reject the new format and while that might not prevent someone from suing under the Voting Rights Act — anyone can sue anyone for just about anything these days — it should provide some measure of defense, having at least done the exercise to investigate whether the agency is violating the act.
Munds said, “It would be a minimum $30,000 gamble on our side if we don’t move forward. For a small district like ours, $30,000 is a lot of money.”
He added that there is a challenge to the law currently before the State Supreme Court that addresses the matter. But there is no timeframe for when that case might be decided and no guarantee it will be decided favorably for the agencies.
And since the CSD does not have its own set of election rules but instead uses the California laws, the people get no say in this. “The CSD does not have election rules in their municipal code but operate under California Government Codes,” Munds said. “The Government Code stipulates that a special district can change to district-based elections by adopting a resolution doing so.”
Munds added that there have been plenty of opportunities for the public to interject. “The Board has the authority to adopt the districting map by resolution,” he said, “no vote of the people required. There have been five public hearings so far with minimal input from the community.”