Costa Mesa won’t pursue options to city’s adopted voting districts

A screen shot from the city of Costa Mesa’s website shows an interactive map of the city’s new voting districts, which will be in place for the 2018 City Council election.
(Courtesy of city of Costa Mesa)

Costa Mesa residents won’t face the question of whether to draw new voting district boundaries to replace the ones they approved two years ago.

A majority of City Council members Tuesday night voted against Mayor Sandy Genis’ suggestion to pursue a districting do-over.

On a 3-1 vote, with Genis opposed, the council decided not to take additional steps toward changing the city’s election system.

Councilman Jim Righeimer left Tuesday’s meeting just before the item came up.

The system approved in 2016 both by a 3-2 council vote and 65% of city voters carved Costa Mesa into six districts, with a council member to be elected by voters in each one. The mayor, who until now has been chosen by fellow council members, will be elected by residents throughout the city. As a result, the council will expand from five members to seven with this year’s election.

Councilman John Stephens said Tuesday that he didn’t think the council has any basis to say the new configuration “is not going to work out, because, quite simply, we haven’t tried it. And I think we should try it.”

When the current district plan went before voters as Measure EE, it was the only option presented. Genis said she feels voters deserve the chance to consider an alternative. She said the vast majority of feedback the city received during community meetings about a new election method favored establishing five voting districts, without a directly elected mayor.

“The community at large, at least the people who attended the meetings, were largely behind the five-district option,” she said. “There were a few who supported the seven-district option, and there really was no interest in the ‘six plus one.’ It was sort of thrown in later in the process.”

Genis motioned to put the five-district option on the ballot in November, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Genis voted against the six-district plan in 2016 and noted Tuesday that Councilwoman Katrina Foley had joined her in opposing it. Foley voted Tuesday against pursuing other options.

But Foley pointed out that “the voters overwhelmingly supported this measure, and they could have voted no.”

“I don’t think it’s right ... before we’ve even implemented what the voters elected, for us to try to, with three votes, undo it,” Foley said. “I won’t support undoing the vote of the electorate.”

Costa Mesa’s shift to district-based elections came as part of an agreement to ward off the threat of a lawsuit by a Malibu-based law firm that alleged the city’s previous voting method — in which all council members were elected by voters citywide — violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by diluting the ability of Latino residents to elect their preferred candidates.

Commission appointments

The process of filling vacant seats on three city commissions started simply enough Tuesday.

On a unanimous vote, the council appointed Richard Cohen to join the Senior Commission, which provides counsel about the Costa Mesa Senior Center and local senior programs and services. Cohen was the only person who applied for the seat.

But filling seats on the parks and recreation and planning commissions was a bit more hectic.

After a flurry of unsuccessful nominations, the council eventually named Jonathan Zich to the Planning Commission, which reviews and acts on certain permit applications and proposed projects and advises the council on issues related to development and long-term growth.

It also named Jim Erickson to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which advises the council on and reviews issues pertaining to those topics.

Both appointments were approved 3-2. Genis and Righeimer voted against Zich, and Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor opposed Erickson.

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