A larger board, more proportional representation. What's not to like?
The problem with SB 1365, as is often the case with well-meaning legislation, is that the best-case scenario under the laws it would alter might not be the one that plays out. A judge could just as easily order that the board be expanded to 17 members, or 35, or some other number. The language includes no guideline or limit.
And there is, of course, a more basic problem. The size of a governing body is an essential component of the government, and changing it should be something initiated by, instead of imposed upon, the electorate.
It is certainly true that voting majorities sometimes act to deprive their neighbors of power, and courts can and often should step in to protect voting rights. A fairly large handful of California cities have stuck with at-large elections that allow whites to hold on to power even as minorities make up majorities in parts of those cities. The California Voting Rights Act gives judges the power to impose by-district elections to remedy the problem, and more often than not that's the best solution. Enlarging judges' tool kits to require more districts as a solution is an intriguing notion, but it must include some reasonable guidelines.
California would be better off if Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1365, allowing a more thoughtful bill to be considered in the session that begins next year. Voters should be on notice about the scope of remedies that might be imposed on them, and lawmakers should ensure that their language is crafted carefully so that state remedies do not run afoul of the maximum reach of voting rights laws as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.