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Lakewood Council Votes to Transition to Voting Districts

STAFF REPORT • January 13, 2021

At its Tuesday, Jan. 12 meeting, the Lakewood City Council reviewed its legal options under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which strongly encourages cities to create council district seats, each representing a portion of a city, instead of having each council member elected by the entire city, which Lakewood has done since its incorporation in 1954.

The CVRA makes it relatively easy for lawsuits to succeed against cities that maintain citywide council elections. And if a city loses a lawsuit, the city pays the attorney fees for the party bringing the suit, which can run into the millions of dollars. No city or other jurisdiction has won in such a suit, and over 150 California cities and school districts have now transitioned to district elections, many doing so to prevent a costly lawsuit.

After deliberation, the Lakewood City Council voted unanimously to avoid the costly legal challenge and passed a Resolution of Intent to create district council seats starting with the 2022 and 2024 council elections.

The transition process will include the hiring of an expert demographer who will help the city hold a series of public meetings, likely beginning in April of this year, with the goal of finalizing maps for council district lines by October 1 of this year.

The theory behind the California Voting Rights Act is that when council members are elected citywide, there tend to be fewer minority group members elected, and that requiring voting by district creates more opportunities for minority group members to be elected, especially if they represent a particular region of a community that has a high population of a minority group.

While the Lakewood City Council currently has two minority group members, that fact alone does not prevent the city from losing in a lawsuit under the CVRA.

At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council Members expressed appreciation for having members elected by and responsible to the entire city under Lakewood’s current system, but also expressed hope that council members in the future would continue the tradition of looking out for the interests of the entire city, even if elected only by one area of it.

 

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