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Redistricting saga ends, but consensus still hard to find

Claremont’s election redistricting saga is over, and not many people are happy.

The city council once again narrowly confirmed map 124a during a second reading of the redistricting ordinance and following an attempt by Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder to extend discussion for later meetings. Mayor Corey Calaycay, Councilmember Jennifer Stark and Councilmember Jed Leano voted yes, while Mr. Schroeder and Councilmember Ed Reece voted no.

The vote puts to bed a 90-day process that thrust Claremont into deciding how its citizenry would be divided in city council elections. Throughout the process, the city maintained they were under threat of litigation from the Southwest Voting Rights Education Project (SVREP) for being in violation of the California Voting Rights Act by having at-large elections.

By-district elections, which Claremont has just confirmed, are seen as a way to curb vote dilution among racial minorities in a jurisdiction. Just getting a demand letter from a voting rights group to make the switch would have cost the city $30,000 in attorney’s fees.

While City Attorney Joseph Larsen noted in January that the city received an “oral communication” threatening legal action from SVREP after the November 2018 election, no formal demand letter was ever received by the city.

This means Claremont was able to make the transition without having to potentially pay costly attorney’s fees, but some residents thought the 90-day process was arbitrary and urged the council to continue discussion on the maps.

“I think this is being driven by an artificial deadline, and the lack of consensus among yourselves as well as the community is indicative of the need to have more process,” resident Richard Chute said during public comment.

Jennifer Jaffe also urged the council not to approve the second reading of the ordinance, noting it doesn’t take into account other areas of interest in the city, such as Mills and Foothill. She cautioned the districted map “will be your legacy.”

“I know there’s been discussion of amending this after the census, but I think the precedent will be sent philosophically and process-wise with what you do now,” she said.

Of the 13 residents who spoke during public comment, three were in favor of moving forward. Richard Rosenbluth noted the 90-day safe harbor period ends next week, and there would be a greater risk of legal action once the city runs out of time.

Sue Keith urged the council to accept the map, noting that “continuing this torture is not good,” and it was time to make a decision that night.

Mr. Calaycay asked demographer Doug Johnson of National Demographics Corporation (NDC) how the maps would be revisited after the 2020 census. Mr. Johnson said the process was “wide open,” noting that even jurisdictions that don’t have to redraw their district lines have the option to completely redraw their map.

“It’s a blank slate,” he said.

He later noted that once census information from 2020 becomes available in February or March 2021, cities would have until October 1, 2021 to reconfigure their district maps.

Map 124a, Mr. Johnson said, was created by NDC using input and comments taken from residents throughout the process. The NDC-created maps, he said, were drawn up after the resident maps were received.

“Yes, NDC drew it and it wasn’t authored by a resident, but it’s based on an enormous amount of public input from residents in the city,” he said.

Mr. Schroeder said he recognized the need to curb vote dilution in Claremont, and acknowledged the historic lack of representation from south Claremont on the city council. But he urged the council to reject the ordinance and adopt a regional map that kept certain parts of Claremont, such as the Village, intact.

He noted the city may be in little danger of a CVRA lawsuit, “because our actions have shown the intent to proceed with the districts,” and once again favored map 110.

Mr. Larsen told the council that if another map were put forward, the city would have to go through at least two extra public hearings—over a minimum of four weeks—to approve a first and second reading of the ordinance. Even if a map were modified, it would still have to be posted seven days before the next public hearing, City Manager Tara Schultz said.

Ms. Stark was in favor of moving forward, noting there is no perfect map and that any map chosen will have some members of the community unsatisfied. She urged the council to move forward and focus on uniting the community.

She put forward a motion to approve map 124a for the second and final time. It was narrowly approved 3-2.

The council also received an updated crime report from the Claremont Police Department, as well as a mid-year budget report. More on that will be in next week’s issue of the COURIER.

The next city council meeting will take place on March 12.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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