The San Clemente City Council on Tuesday night, Sept. 5, directed staff and its National Demographics Corporation (NDC) consultant to consider segmenting the city into four districts as the districting process progresses. With constituents split into four voting districts, the council also proposed the creation of an at-large election for mayor.
Councilmembers Victor Cabral, Mark Enmeier and Rick Loeffler were the vocal advocates for a four-district system, with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock in favor of five districts. Acknowledging a consensus, Mayor Chris Duncan didn’t express an opinion about how to proceed with the by-district election process.
Tuesday night saw the city hold its second public hearing on the matter after the council announced an intention to switch to by-district elections. The California Voting Rights Act requires cities to hold at least three hearings before adopting an ordinance that marks the transition away from at-large elections.
As many in the room were acutely aware of residents’ majority vote in 2018 against by-district elections, Loeffler referenced that vote, saying it meant residents wanted to be able to vote every two years for as many people as they could.
“If we just go to five districts, people vote every four years,” he said. “With the apathy we already have in this city, I think that’s going to add to it. There’s not going to be any excitement, and I see low turnouts.”
Enmeier added that having more opportunities to vote for more people “increases our democratic footprint.” Regardless of the mayoral position’s lack of additional power over the other councilmembers, Enmeier said, residents should be able to choose who represents their city as the face of San Clemente.
Knoblock favored the concept of “keeping it simple” with five districts, which he felt more closely reflected the city’s symbiotic City Council/city manager form of government.
“I think the perception of a mayor having greater authority is one I’d like to avoid, if possible,” said Knoblock. “In cities that are governed by the mayor, (the title of mayor) has some significant governance power and gravitas. In our situation, the mayor doesn’t, other than being 20% of the (council) vote.”
Enmeier also suggested placing a two-year term on elected mayors, a position candidates could occupy only for two years at a time. The council later questioned City Attorney Elizabeth Mitchell on how such a change would affect the existing ordinance that restricts people from being councilmembers for more than two consecutive four-year terms.
Mitchell suggested modifying the city’s Municipal Code to address two-year terms as well.
Additionally on Tuesday night, NDC Vice President and city consultant Justin Levitt repeated his presentation from the first public hearing on Aug. 15, taking questions from councilmembers and providing updates from work completed since that meeting.
Levitt announced the creation of a “one-page kit” the public can use to develop their own draft map of San Clemente, which was expected to be released on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
“We’ve divided the city into about 100 different areas with different populations, all the way from zero-population areas that are commercial or industrial, all the way up to some areas that were hard to split, that have maybe 1,000 or so residents,” he said.
The goal is for people to add up the areas to reach targeted district populations of roughly 16,100 people, Levitt added. Districts must also be geographically contiguous, and their boundaries must be easily identifiable and understandable by residents.
Residents can access the participation kit on the city’s website, san-clemente.org, at a link under the City Clerk Services tab titled “District Elections.”
City Clerk Laura Campagnolo spoke about the city’s efforts to engage in outreach. Informational flyers and blank maps were expected to be placed at city facilities on Wednesday, and the public can submit maps to the clerk through email, in-person drop-off, or regular mail.
By Sept. 21, all maps created by the public and NDC will be placed on the city website.
The third public hearing, to discuss draft maps and the sequence of elections, will occur on Oct. 3, followed by a fourth on Oct. 17, and a potential fifth during that same meeting to introduce an ordinance for by-district elections.
Adoption would occur on Nov. 7.