Claremont residents get involved at district election workshop
Claremonters were given a crash course on how to draw city council districts during two workshops on Sunday, January 13.
The two presentations—at Blaisdell Center and Hughes Center—went over how to map out districts in Claremont, in preparation for the city’s eventual transition to by-district elections.
Roughly 30 people were in attendance at Blaisdell and fewer than 20 people went to the meeting at the Hughes Center. Despite the turnout, National Demographic Corporation (NDC) Vice President Justin Levitt said it was one of the better-attended city meetings in his experience.
“In terms of getting community outreach and participation, the city is light years ahead” of some of the other municipalities, he said.
Claremont’s transition to by-district elections comes after several nearby cities received letters informing them they were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) by having at-large elections.
By-district elections, where each sitting councilmember represents a specific part of the city and is voted in by residents of that district, have been touted as a way to curb racially polarized voting and disenfranchisement of minority groups.
Some cities, like Modesto and Santa Monica, have tried to fight the CVRA and lost, resulting in millions of dollars in losses. According to Doug Johnson of NDC, even receiving a demand letter from an attorney could cost a city $30,000.
Claremont has not yet received a demand letter, but started the process in order to avoid paying attorney’s fees if it does get one.
The city has 90 days to make the transition, starting from the date it first passed its resolution of intent on November 27.
Mr. Levitt told the Hughes Center crowd that an extension of that timeline could only happen if the city received a demand letter. Extensions are a brand new facet of the law that went into effect at the beginning of 2019, he added.
“Under the new law, you can ask the person who sent you a demand letter for an extension. Of course, if you’re assigned to do it on your own, you have nobody to ask for an extension,” he said.
Mr. Levitt was on hand to teach those in attendance how to draw up their own district maps. Handouts showed a map of the city, divided up into dozens of “population units,” each with the number of people residing within it. The numbers have been taken from the 2010 census, Mr. Levitt said.
Once these lines are drawn, they can only be used for the 2020 election, he added; since the 2020 census will result in new population demographics, the lines would have to be adjusted accordingly for the 2022 election, but not by much.
“Think of this as an opportunity to really get in on the ground level and play a role probably in shaping the city’s districts for the next 30 to 40 years,” he said.
The idea is to use these boundaries to draw your districts, counting the amount of residents along the way. When drawing districts, he said, Claremonters should create borders that follow roads and not property lines.
Ideally, each district should have the same amount of people residing within it—sticking with five districts amounts to roughly 7,000 citizens per district. Of course, you are welcome to draw more than five districts, but you have to make sure each district contains a similar amount of people.
Mr. Levitt also presented maps that showed concentrations of the city’s two largest racial minority populations. According to the maps, a majority of Claremont’s Latino population generally lives in south Claremont, while the city’s Asian population generally lives in the northeast corner.
He cautioned when drawing a district, one should stay away from racial gerrymandering, meaning drawing a district around a certain race.
Other areas of interest that may reflect how one draws a map include certain community concerns. Examples include Foothill Boulevard, where the city is in the middle of a yearlong beautification project, the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, Pilgrim Place or the Claremont Colleges.
Breaking the Claremont Colleges into more than one district, for example, means having multiple councilmembers be responsible for them.
Claremonters can also draw up districts online, through the software Mapitude linked to the city’s website at claremontca.org/ districting. You can create maps by clicking on a population unit until you have the districts desired, and send them off to NDC through the website.
While you can draw up as many districts as you want on the paper map, the online tool is capped at five districts, Mr. Levitt said.
You can print a paper map at the Claremont districting page as well. The page also goes into detail about how to draw maps, as well as how to create your map using the online tool. A few YouTube tutorial videos on how to draw your own districting map can be found at the bottom of the page.
The tone at the Hughes Center meeting was one of apprehension. Hilda Bizzell accused NDC of employing “scare tactics” toward the city and the city council by talking about the threat of litigation, and Diann Ring called the process of seeking an extension “absurd.” Joe Salas claimed that nearby Fontana created districts that served them politically.
Mr. Levitt noted Claremont was undergoing a more transparent process than other cities, citing Fontana as an example of a city that did everything behind closed doors.
“I will say Claremont is doing one of the most open processes, especially for a city of its size, with its resources,” he said.
Claremonters will have until January 22 to draw and submit maps for approval. Maps can also be hand-delivered to Claremont city hall or emailed to Claremont@ndcresearch.com.
[Ed. note: Hilda Bizzell’s quote was updated to more accurately reflect what was said at the meeting.]