Half Moon Bay’s Redistricting Advisory Committee met last week to weigh keeping the city’s four-district election model or selecting a five-district model with a rotating mayor.
The City Council is using this advisory committee as a sounding board to examine its districts and election system. Thursday’s meeting allowed the seven-member committee to give feedback on whether the city should stick to its current model of four council members, one from each district, and an at-large elected mayor all serving a four-year term. The committee is also mulling a switch to a mayor with a two-year term or a five-district system with one council member serving as mayor on an alternating yearly basis.
To keep district populations relatively equal and ensure equal representation, cities with a district-based election system must redraw their boundaries every 10 years according to the latest census data. In collaboration with the National Demographics Corporation, which helped draw Half Moon Bay’s districts in 2018, the Redistricting Advisory Committee will send two maps to the City Council in January. One will break the city into five districts, and another with four. The committee will also forward feedback from residents on which model is preferred.
Shalice Tilton, a senior consultant with the NDC, said normally voters decide how to elect city leadership, either by a rotating or elected mayor, but the City Council can use an ordinance if it believes it’s in line with the California Voting Rights Act. A four-district map will either have a two- or four-year elected mayor. If the city decides again on four districts, each one will have around 3,183 people. If it opts for five districts, each one will have around 2,546 people, according to the NDC. Neither of the models would cause major budget issues, said City Clerk Jessica Blair.
“A two-year mayor would give every voter in Half Moon Bay a chance to elect someone on the City Council every election,” said Blair. “One election you would only vote for the two-year mayor. The next election you would vote for your district’s council member as well as your two-year mayor.”
The committee includes chair Marin Holt, vice chair Paul Gater, Michal Settles, Claudia Marshall, Steve Maller, Phil Marshall and Hal Bogner. The committee’s next meeting will be a public hearing on Aug. 26.
In 2018, the city transitioned from an at-large to a by-district election system. The City Council divided the city into four districts with a four-year at-large elected mayor. But that system does not go into effect until November 2022, so the council currently rotates two members to be mayor and vice mayor annually. As currently constituted, the mayor and vice mayor roles are largely ceremonial, though the mayor runs City Council meetings.
The committee has certain criteria and guidelines for how it can draw maps. There are federal regulations ensuring equal population and outlawing racial gerrymandering. California cities also have to be geographically contiguous and not divide certain neighborhoods with a strong minority population, often referred to as communities of interest.
For the purposes of the committee, the Hispanic population is the main “protected class” designation of concern. Tilton said there are other protected classes in Half Moon Bay but they don’t have a high enough concentration or population. According to NDC’s estimates, around 2,800, or 16 percent, of the city’s 9,087 voting-age population is Hispanic. By comparison, the Asian and Pacific Islander population is estimated to be 9 percent, and the non-Hispanic Black population is at 1 percent.
Because of rules regarding targeting communities of interest, the committee is charged with finding the balance regarding communities of interest. Specifically, it has to avoid “packing” and “cracking” the city’s protected classes.
“If you have a highly concentrated area of a protected class you cannot ‘crack’ them, meaning you can’t split them into several districts so that it basically dilutes their voting strength,” Tilton said. The same principle applies to “packing,” where a district’s boundaries maneuver to cover all protected class groups into one district so they have no say in any other.
The committee is still waiting on new census data from the state. The U.S. Census Bureau released its first batch of data on Aug. 12. Because that data was in the raw “legacy format,” the state must assemble those statistics into a more usable database. The state is expecting to release data that accounts for the prison population in late September. To redraw the city, the committee will use census blocks, the census’s smallest block-level data that details roads, streams and property lines.