Drama in Novato – Designing Novato’s Five City Council Districts

The hottest political app in Novato is City Council District designing. The City Council turned turtle and caved in to a possible lawsuit threat by starting the process of converting from an at-large election model to a district election model.

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To avoid a lawsuit the City of Novato hired an established firm, National Demographics Corporation (NDC), to provide guidance to the City Council on converting to 5 Districts. NDC then hired Nielsen Merksamer, a law firm specializing in voting rights litigation, to provide insight into the legal aspects of defining voting districts without violating the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) or the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Novato’s population is very diverse with only 66% of residents being Non-Hispanic Whites.The Latino community is spread out in Novato unlike the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael. Supplemental data indicates that Novato’s Latino population is much younger that the Non-Hispanic White population and more than 40% are non-citizen residents ineligible to register to vote.

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There are established guidelines and rules governing the determination of voting districts other than gerrymandering of district boundaries to minimize/maximize the influence of a particular social segment. Racial gerrymandering of district boundaries is forbidden under Federal law.

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A primary consideration in district composition is existing “communities of interest”.  The defining characteristics of a community of interest are straightforward. Several neighborhoods may be part of a district.

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At the front end of the redistricting process, National Demographics Corporation (NDC) issued four maps naming each one after a distinct color. Each map was driven primarily by statistical information since NDC is not specifically familiar with Novato’s existing communities of interest.  And, each map had a set of demographic statistics associated with it. The preliminary maps are intended to introduce the City Council to the concept of district election composition, and each was “considerately” drawn with a sitting Councilmember having their own district.

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As hoped, the preliminary maps provoked discussion among political stakeholders. Using a clunky city-purchased $12,000 interactive mapping app, Novato’s citizens were invited to draw up their own versions of district maps and publicly share them. Racial gerrymandering of district boundaries becomes apparent as evidenced by oddly shaped boundaries and as confirmed by an unbiased review of the district’s “supporting” statistical data. Whether these publicly shared maps will have any ultimate effect on final district boundaries is debatable.

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Recently, the political long knives have come out because sitting Councilmembers and various potential candidates live distressingly close to each other. Should the preliminary district boundaries shift as expected, this could impact Novato’s political landscape. Since a Councilmember must live in the district that he/she represents, there probably are conflicts of interest among Novato’s political players. There could be awkward and deliberate collateral political damage.

As the only significant political party in Marin, the Marin Democrat Club is going to be dominant in the final redistricting decisions. The remnants of John Burton’s political machine, such as Judy Arnold, hold the keys to the Democrat establishment’s political treasury with which to “buy” district elections.

The Novato Chamber of Commerce will continue to hatch sympathetic Council candidates using its so-called “Leadership Novato” training program. To counter this, a future qualification for office could be that the candidate has not attended the Chamber program and hence is squeaky clean of its implied influence. Either way, the Chamber will have to reset its political lobbying program. Now its political PAC will have to spread its money around.

The most interesting game in town is the next 30 days of political geography combat. Our faux Mayor Eric Lucan is vulnerable after his poor results in the last election. What would happen if Fryday and Lucan turn out to be in the same district?

 

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