Concord City Council to Discuss Possible Move to District Elections

January 2, 2018 8:00 am · 43 comments

The Concord City Council tonight will discuss changing the city’s elections to a district-based system rather than the current at-large setup.

The proposed change is in response to two letters, one from a Walnut Creek-based attorney and another from the Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes, which has sent similar letters to other jurisdictions around the state, including recently in Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

Antioch, Martinez, Pittsburg and Brentwood are among other Contra Costa County cities that have received the letters, Concord city officials said.

The letters sent to Concord in November both allege that the at-large system dilutes the ability of Latinos in Concord to elect candidates of their choice and threatens litigation if the city does not convert to
district-based elections.

In September 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that provides a “safe harbor” from litigation for cities that choose to voluntarily transition to district elections.

The law outlines steps that need to be taken during the transition, including adopting a resolution declaring the intent to transition, holding five hearings within a 90-day period, city officials said.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider approving the resolution and, if it does so, will determine the number of districts to be formed, the boundaries of each district, whether Concord’s mayor should be directly elected, and the timing and sequence of the elections.

The Council has five members and currently selects one of its members to serve as mayor on an annual basis.

ggg January 2, 2018 at 8:24 AM

As far as I’m concerned, the Monument corridor gets more than its share of City resources as it is. You don’t have to be hispanic to represent hispanic interests. The whole council leans toward south Concord no matter where they live. The free shuttle from Monument Corridor to Downtown being the most recent special service. Why not a free shuttle down Clayton Road? Edi already champions for rent control, art projects, walk in police sub stations and other uber-liberal causes that serve the Monument. So I say, if districts are formed, the residents of East Concord and other more middle class areas might get more attention. Those Council persons would not have to pander to areas that can’t vote for them.

Clay Campbell January 2, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Because a SoCal lawyer writes a letter our City Council is going to talk about changing a system that is working very well?
I bet they have much more effective ways to spend their (our) time.

Mitch January 2, 2018 at 8:59 AM

We don’t need to hyper-fragment the city to further pander to voters by race or neighborhood. A system that promotes gerrymandering is not viable. It would be nice to elect the mayor, however.

Town January 2, 2018 at 12:09 PM

I have asked the question several times. Why are the mayors in our area not elected?

burnbabyburn January 2, 2018 at 9:08 AM

Perhaps these idiots from W.C. and Malibu should send letters to their own cities stating how they dilute the ability of latinos to vote due to the fact that both cities are predominately populated by rich white people,

As a side note, the only thing that dilutes anyone’s ability to vote is their inability to get off their lazy bum’s and take the time to vote.

Shoulda Coulda January 2, 2018 at 10:55 AM

This issue has nothing to do with the people
who live in Malibu or Walnut Creek. It has
everything to do with lawyers trying to make
a buck sending out form letters to every city
in the state threatening litigation. It the same
game that the lawyers played with the ADA
legislation. Cities and small mom and pop
businesses were targeted by lawyers who
hired handicapped people to file lawsuits for
their law firms. They sued anyone that they could
prey upon in the guise of protecting handicapped
people’s rights. These lawyers are fishing for
lawsuits and easy cash. Blame the greedy lawyers.

RANDOM TASK January 2, 2018 at 9:22 AM

Here we go

Rich January 2, 2018 at 9:47 AM

Does this mean the candidates have to live in the districts they represent? This should apply to the State level as well.

Concord Mike January 2, 2018 at 9:50 AM

Info from the official city documentation:

“The City received two certified letters in November 2017, one from attorney Scott Rafferty in Walnut Creek, California (Attachment 1) and one from the Shenkman &Hughes law firm in Malibu, California (Attachment 2). Both letters allege “racially polarized voting” and threaten litigation if the City declines to voluntarily convert to district-based elections for Council members. “Racially polarized voting” means voting in which there is a difference in the choice of candidates or other electoral choices that
are preferred by voters in a protected class, and in the choice of candidates and electoral choices that are preferred by voters in the rest of the electorate (Elections Code Section 14026(e)). Specifically, the letters assert that the City’s at-large electoral system dilutes the ability of Latinos (a protected class) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Concord’s council elections and that, as a result, Concord’s at-large electoral system violates the CVRA.”

Here is an interesting article about the back room intrigue related to these law suits:

I don’t care about district elections vs at large, but I do resent the accusation of racism in our city elections and I do object to the amount of council and staff time and expense which will be wasted reacting to this frivolous suit.

The Martinez gazette article points to a well known Martinez politician as the person responsible for contacting these attorneys and encouraging the suit against Martinez.

Not sure why Concord is being targeted. We have had a couple of Hispanic residents elected to the council if I recall: Lou Rosas and Michael Chavez.

me January 5, 2018 at 12:02 PM

They should fight this. Would love to see the attorneys prove this.

lunmycats January 2, 2018 at 9:51 AM

Yes to Burnbabyburn! I live in Pittsburg & now I know where the recent talk about this is coming from! Lawyers! Our town is too small for this. If people are selected from certain districts, like say the Monument Corridor, we could get people voted in who know nothing & are not suited for government work (because their constituents like them) say. Stupid idea! But there will not be a vote, I am sure, & they will just ram it down our throats. And who will divide up the districts????

Concord Landlord January 2, 2018 at 10:06 AM

Just another way for Edi to implement his utopian vision of rent control.

Rodney January 2, 2018 at 10:12 AM

This is GREAT news!

Elected representatives MUST be held directly accountable to the People in their district.

District representation gives the voters the most power and local control.

If your city/county operates under general representation, the voters need to move to make their city/county change to a district representation. If they won’t do so voluntarily, force a resolution by the people to make it happen.

Shakedown! January 2, 2018 at 10:34 AM

A shakedown in the guise of a social justice effort. An illustration of why people hate lawyers.
The Council rightly is considering this measure because they are at risk of losing in litigation if they discount it (other municipalities have litigated this and lost).

Robyn January 2, 2018 at 10:51 AM

Great news, and a long time coming! I am looking forward to seeing what ideas for the district maps are out there!

Randy January 2, 2018 at 11:39 AM

Will you have to live in the same district as you represent.

Kenji January 2, 2018 at 7:11 PM

Yes. City’s page about it here.

Really? January 2, 2018 at 11:44 AM

So, a largely illegal community that votes illegally isn’t enough, now Jerry Brown and company are forcing cities to adopt “district-based elections” which will favor illegal communities or face litigation if they don’t. Something is very wrong when the Governor colludes with a law firm to force cities to change the way their elections are held.

Original G January 2, 2018 at 12:06 PM

Another effort to gerrymander into existence their progressive liberal fantasy Utopia?

Eirk_Patrick January 2, 2018 at 12:18 PM

Whatever gets rid of the current stagnate “we’ll see what other cities do” government is a good thing

Nature Lover January 2, 2018 at 12:32 PM

I think all the cities in Contra Costa County that have received letters should band together and sue the two law firms.

Lars Anderson January 2, 2018 at 2:31 PM

I really don’t think district elections is the number one issue in Concord. Mayor Birsan, by trumpeting this issue, is just diverting attention from more pressing problems. I think the fact that the city is careening toward bankruptcy should be the top issue on the agenda. The long term financial picture health of our city is grim, we are only being kept afloat by a bond issue which is paying for public works projects the city would normally be doing, but can’t afford to do. Tax payers have bailed out the city – for now – but even this bond bail out won’t fix the long term problems.
The city, I should mention, laid off 25% of the work force in 2009, yet the city is still broke. The fact that the economy is booming – unemployment is at a 40 year low – hasn’t helped either. The situation is so grim City Manager Valerie Barrone has hired a team of expensive consultants to try and figure out why the city is so broke, and what can be done to alleviate the situation.
Apparently our elected officials, like Mayor Birsan and Laura Hoffmiester, go around scratching their heads wondering why there is no money for anything in Concord, no money for a new library, no money for routine maintenance of city buildings, no money for recreation programs, no money for a teen center – no money for nothing. Not only is there no money for things like robust rec programs or routine park maintenance, the city is actually heading toward bankruptcy.
The key, I believe, to getting Concord back on track, getting our city back toward a path of financial solvency, is to deal with the issue of out-of-control profligate spending on our police department. We are spending astronomical amounts of money on the PD – stupidly and needlessly. Concord PD has become a bloated out-of-control budget draining bureaucracy. The department needs to be completely reorganized, the fat in the PD budget needs to be eliminated, this is what we must do to end the red ink in Concord. Surplus management jobs at the PD need to be eliminated, pay schedules need to be readjusted, we also need to reform pension costs at the PD.
Spending on the PD is out of control – it’s been out of control for a long time – and it’s time city leaders stop pretending they are on top of things, they are not. They have been letting PD officials roll them for every penny in the city budget, to the point where they pick up council members by the legs, turn them over, and all but shake the quarters out of their pockets (PD spending going from 42 million annually to 60 million in just four years. No new officers for this, just higher pay benefits, fatter pensions, and a continuation of costly surplus make work management jobs)
There is no justification for all this out-of-control spending being done at the PD. Concord does not have a lot of crime – it never has. Our city is not like Richmond or Vallejo, we are a medium-to-low crime city. Because Concord doesn’t have a lot of crime it makes zero sense to pour astronomical amounts of money into the PD. We don’t need 30 Sgt. Joe Kenda’s to investigate Concord’s murders, we had one or two last year, and three the year before. This tail the PD keeps telling us, that Concord is poised to become gang infested is just ridiculous, I’ve live in Concord 66 years and I’ve never seen a single gang member. The PD brass keeps trying to scare Concord residents – M13 is here now in Concord the PD is now claiming. And because MS 13 are here now we need more officers, more pay, more managers etc. I don’t believe this, and nobody else should either.
If Mayor Edi Birsan wants to do some good during his term as Mayor I recommend that he put together some sort of citizens commission to investigate the whole issue of profligate spending on our PD. How much money do we really need to keep us safe? Why are surrounding cities able to keep citizens safe – and build new libraries and fund rec programs as well. Why is it when in comes to public spending in Concord the PD gets everything and other departments just get crumbs? How come the PD seems to be “lay-off proof” while other departments in the city have seen their work forces decimated? (If Rocket man in North Korea dropped a missile on Concord and the city was leveled, no buildings left and no people, there would not be any layoffs at the PD, people say – with some accuracy, I think). What are the outcomes of all this extra spending we are doing on the PD? With all this extra spending shouldn’t we see a dramatic uptick in crimes solved? All of these questions could be aired by a citizens commission, the council isn’t doing this, so a citizens commission might be a way to get these questions answered. Amazingly, whatever the PD brass tells council members they believe without asking any questions. Same with the Concord POA.
While I believe a citizens commission could help solve the issue of over spending on the PD – which is the key to getting Concord back on track financially, I am not holding my breath on this happening, even with Edi Birsan as the Mayor. Many are saying Birsan, once the lone independent voice on the council, has entered into a secret alliance with the Concord Police Officers Association.

Concord Mike January 2, 2018 at 2:46 PM

Another consequence of dividing up Concord into districts. Voters in the monument corridor will now have more voting power than those of us who live in other districts.


Because the district allocation will be done from census data, which counts the many immigrants who cannot vote by law. There will be fewer registered voters in the Monument district, so each voter will have more influence in the election.

A fairer and more democratic way would be to divide up by registered voter count, but that will not happen because the whole goal of this effort is to maximize the voting power of the “protected class”.

Reminds me of the Animal Farm quote “ some animals are more equal than others”.

BagsFlyFree January 2, 2018 at 3:38 PM

Spot on analysis regarding the CPD $$$ pit. If voting districts solve the issue with POA bankrolling Yes men/women, than so be it. This city can’t evolve if it plays scared all the time with respect to potential crime. You target hot spots, provide ample lighting, and keep the kids entertained. Add cameras at Bailey, YVR, WP/Olivera, and hope this helps deter the baddies. More funds need be allocated to rehabbing and investing in commercial zones/development to improve the overall vibe of this city.

Hopefully Edi hasn’t been compromised, because he himself was publically spat on/embarrassed by the POA, and their leadership. These people want $$$.

BFF Out!

KAD January 2, 2018 at 9:10 PM

If we pay a Mayor, does that mean we don’t need the high payed City Manager any longer?

mayflour January 2, 2018 at 9:57 PM

so what do you do when a small handful of people make these big changes in the culture of our city? This seems surreal…

Antler January 3, 2018 at 12:10 AM

In his emails, Mayor Birsan’s main reasons for wanting districts are

1.”They” will sue us if we don’t have them.
(Negative. If “They sue, then we win the lawsuit because Concord has no record of ignoring or subjugating residents of Hispanic ancestry when it comes to civic jobs, including Council.)

2. Mayor Birsan has also made the point that it is less expensive for a person to run for City Council if he/she only has to campaign in one smaller geographic area. It saves money on printing campaign garbage, and it is easier for the candidate to meet everyone by walking around.
(So what? Just ban all political signage of any kind in the entire city. Also ban any city department or labor group …especially the Police Department… from endorsing political candidates and paying for their campaigns’ postal garbage. Several problems solved right there.)

I am opposed to gerrymandering. There is NO fair way to carve up a city! Districting turns residents of city sections against one another in endless bickering and councils into ovens of favoritism. In addition, we would need at least 7 city council members MINIMUM to represent the diverse sections. There goes more money down the drain! And next there would be the endless expensive “studies” as to who and what gets to wield the districting Gerrymander Hatchets….

I have recommended and voted for Mayor Birsan every time he has run for office. He is indeed a fine person who works hard for our residents for far too many hours out of every single day. But on this issue, we are in DIRE disagreement!!!

KAD January 3, 2018 at 1:03 AM

I agree but I am not sure how much money it would take to fight this. I also agree that we need more than 5 districts. I don’t think the residents of what the attorneys are calling unrepresented are unrepresented at all. In fact, they get more attention than other areas of the City.
I would like to see all campaign signage banned as well. Helen Allen thanked Dick Allen for getting her elected once to the City Council because of all of his signs.

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 7:39 AM

The lawsuits are not about who gets civic jobs; the CA Voting Rights Act is about is about who is making the decisions to give out those jobs in addition to grants, money, policy, etc. In other words, the minority communities shouldn’t have to rely on the “kindness” of the majority, they should be a part of the decision making process. Concord is around 1/3 Latino but the decision makers do not reflect this. No city has been able to do so successfully in Court. It would be difficult for Concord to demonstrate any less legally, and Concord would look absolutely ridiculous arguing that Ron Leone is representative of the Latinos in our community.

The Monument area receives lots of attention. However, that area is no longer the only area with a high Latino population. Council likes to focus on the Monument because it makes them look like they care about the poorer communities. But not all Latinos are low income people in the Monument, a poor stereotype that is perpetuated by the Council focusing largely on only those people. The Scott Rafferty demand letter has a map that shows a large percentage now also votes in the North Concord neighborhoods.

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 7:46 AM

I would add that the district elections would not necessarily mean a person from a protected group would automatically be elected. It means that, as a group, specific areas would be selecting someone who they choose to represent them who actually has a chance to serve on the Council instead of being outvoted by more homogeneous voters no where near them.

They might choose a Latino, they might choose an African American, they might choose a woman – the point is, it would be someone that their area selected and could hold accountable. Each district would have a voice at the Council to add to the discussion instead of being relegated to three minutes at public comment.

Concord Mike January 3, 2018 at 11:54 AM

Well said, Antler. This lawsuit is an insult to the good people of Concord.

I see some positive potential for district elections, but I see serious risks too, Carving up the city will be a big challenge. I don’t want to assume it will neatly carve into 5 districts. It could be 6 or 7 or 8. I think we should keep neighborhoods as intact as possible, and if that means more council members than we have today, then great.

I don’t think odd numbers are required either. In fact a 6 person city council might even be better. Requiring a 2 vote majority to pass laws would assure better consensus than requiring just a 1 vote bare majority.

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 12:11 PM

@ Concord Mike

An odd number of members on committees is considered the best practice to avoid constant deadlock on the vote.

Concord Res January 3, 2018 at 6:35 AM

So glad we are a sanctuary state and we are giving illegal citizens more say in our local government.

ggg January 3, 2018 at 8:21 AM

I don’t get the argument that districts create more power. You’re more likely to go down 4 to 1 if no other council person has to answer to your constituents. Also seems to me that there would be an increase in back room trading and bargaining, which is a violation of the Brown act, for the most part. Of course most politicians care more about just being on the council than actually getting anything done. Staff runs the show anyway. Most politicians are empty suits. So district elections make it easier to get elected and the winner gets to be on TV, write columns in the newspaper, run around with a name tag and be specially introduced at events. Then there is the free health insurance, the copious free junkets, the attention and cowtowing from staff, vendors and lobbyists and who cares if they can’t get another vote, most people don’t know how many others voted with them or against them.

Admiral Tartersauce January 3, 2018 at 8:51 AM

It’s been a while since I’ve been proud of the shouts coming out of the mob here on Claycord, but this time it is heartening to see so many people articulating well the many reasons that this legal threat is an ethical, civic, ethnic, and legal atrocity. Many of my points have already been made. Dittos to the lot of you. Even, and especially, you, Concord Mike.

Concord may well be better served by district elections. Or it may not. I don’t even think it is certain that the Monument Mexicans would have more power by getting their own special designated council member. So they have one seat that can be ignored by the majority that no longer has to represent that constituency?

If anyone finds the term, “Monument Mexicans” offensive, I would be happy to use another one, just tell me what it is. I’m not the one trying to enshrine a social division in law. But if we’re going to do this, it has to be catchy and practical. Short. Not a paragraph listing every country south of the border and endless hedges, addendums, and exceptions.

I’m pretty sure the plaintiffs are not talking about Hispanics from Spain, or even a lot of South America, nor non-Hispanic Latinos. I doubt if they’re even talking about the many thousands of straight up Mexicans NOT living in that proposed official ethnic ghetto. What about all the NON whatever it is we want to call them people living in the Monument Corridor? Latinos already own city hall through powerful families such as the Seenos, the Garaventas, and the Leones.

It will be interesting to see when the ACLU sues this group for trying to herd American voters into corrals based on the ethnic flavor of their neighborhood. Thank you I WILL hold my breath.

Bonus points to Shoulda Coulda for illuminating the legalized extortion industry spawned by the ADA. That needs to be called out A LOT more.

Concord Mike January 3, 2018 at 11:45 AM

Thank you for your kind words, Admiral Tartersauce.

I would offer this correction. The Garaventa family is Italian, not Latino.

Personally, I am dog tired of all the identity politics being foisted on us. This issue is just more of the same.

We have already had two hispanic candidates win in at-large elections in the last 20 years – Michael Chavez and Lou Rosas. Personally, I would vote for a Hispanic candidate in a heartbeat if that candidate agreed with my viewpoints, had personal integrity, and was the best candidate. The problem in Concord is not racism. The problem is getting good people of all ethnic identities to run for office.

Randy January 3, 2018 at 12:29 PM

Mike. A Hispanic candidate with your views does not mean they represent the Hispanic majority.

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 12:41 PM

@ Admiral Tartarsauce

The term “Monument Mexicans” pretty much comes across as derogatory. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that warrants reconsideration of its use.

Also, Latinos in Concord live in more places than the Monument. For example, North Concord areas have a good number of Latino registered voters according to the County Registrar.

Admiral Tartersauce January 3, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Hi Hope Johnson. I know. It comes off as derogatory, but I’m kind of sacrificing myself to the Gods of Political Correctness to make the rhetorical point that those who are threatening to sue our fair city to ostensibly benefit “those who we cannot name without appearing racist” have painted themselves into a bit of corner because they cannot even honestly identify their would-be clients.

I believe we completely agree on one thing: Hispanics and/or Latinos, are by now in 2017 well dispersed and integrated into ALL corners of Concord. Maybe you can walk down Monument and say, “Golly, there’s a heap of them (insert your politically correct term of the week here) around here, but you can no longer say the inverse in any other neighborhood. If the plaintiffs were truly concerned with “Latinos” and “Hispanics” they would be including those thousands that also live in the rest of Concord. But they’re not. They are offering a fictitious paradigm where Concord is this evil segregated city that keeps its Latino/Hispanic/whatevers disenfranchised and confined to one section of town. That is a crock of bullbucky. This a group of soulless lawyers seeing an opportunity to systematically extort public dollars from any city too weak to defend itself. They have chosen the legal tact of claiming disenfranchisement because one street has a lot of carncenerias. It is a racially cynical ploy to have our council fall all over itself to do anything to not appear racist. Hope, I’m sorry if my cavalier discussion of these ambiguous ethnic/racial terms makes me come across as some kind of Archie Bunker, I am merely refusing to genuflect to these racist litigators, and I am calling them out on their own B.S.

@Concord Mike , maybe there is a deficiency in my understanding of European history. Since when are Italians not Latinos?

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 12:26 PM

The CA Voting Rights Act is a state law. It’s not some made up issue by the demand letter. Cities must comply or challenge the law with the State in some way. If you disagree, write to the State legislature or organize to change the law or send a letter to our City Attorney with your ideas to legally justify your assertion that Concord doesn’t need to change to districts and should go to court to prove it.

Also, California’s law makers play a pivotal role in providing opportunity for lawyers to recoup monies from municipalities. Credit or blame, depending on your position, falls squarely on their shoulders.

Your elected officials specifically provided within the law itself for prevailing plaintiffs to recover costs in litigation and for prevailing defendant cities to take nothing unless it can be shown the lawsuits were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

A recent amendment by your elected officials provides a safe harbor for cities to avoid litigation and its associated cost risk but then also allows lawyers to recoup expenses up to $30,000 associated with the demand letter only.

Whether or not one supports this method of demand letter, until elected representatives themselves are held accountable for creating this and other like situations, not much will change.

Here’s the text on paying lawyers in the law adopted, not by the private lawyers but by your elected officials.

CVRA 14043. In any action to enforce Sections 14040 and 14041, the court shall allow the prevailing plaintiff party, other than the state or political subdivision thereof, a reasonable attorney’s fee consistent with the standards established in Serrano v. Priest (1977) 20 Cal.3d 25, 48-49, and litigation expenses including, but not limited to, expert witness fees and expenses as part of the costs. Prevailing defendant parties shall not recover any costs, unless the court finds the action to be frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

AB 350 Amendment:
f) (1) If a political subdivision adopts an ordinance establishing district-based elections pursuant to subdivision (a), a prospective plaintiff who sent a written notice pursuant to subdivision (e) before the political subdivision passed its resolution of intention may, within 30 days of the ordinance’s adoption, demand reimbursement for the cost of the work product generated to support the notice.
(3) The amount of reimbursement required by this section is capped at $30,000, as adjusted annually to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. city average, as published by the United States Department of Labor.

ggg January 3, 2018 at 1:07 PM

Elections are not supposed to be about giving someone a “chance to serve on the council.” This isn’t an elementary school ball game where everyone gets a trophy no matter how dismal the play. Elections should be about putting people in office who can get things done… who can actually deliver on promises made to the constituents. Having “a voice” is worthless. You have to have the votes! Chronically being voted down or shut out by the other council people is not getting anything done. Ask Edi, he knows. And if anyone wants a chance to serve, all she has to do is put her name on the ballot. If she doesn’t win, blame it on democracy, not “unkindness.”
Seems like she had a chance and she performed poorly, but she wants her trophy anyway.

Hope Johnson January 3, 2018 at 6:40 PM

Elections are about representation. You know, that whole no taxation without representation thing. Representation is about assessing what a community need/wants and both the federal and CA Voting Rights Act were an attempt to have inclusive input. If you disagree with that so be it but you need to work to change the law. Elections are about representation.

Kenji January 3, 2018 at 6:33 PM

One thing everybody should understand regarding the money the lawyer stands to make by bringing this litigation threat: No money would have been made if, at any point in the 15 years since the passage of the California Voting Rights Act, the City had decided on its own to move to districts without waiting for the threat of litigation. The decision of past Councils to ignore the problem for fifteen years and wait for someone to come along and threaten litigation is now going to cost $30,000. Fortunately, AB 350 was passed in Sept 2016 and capped the lawyer’s compensation at that amount. Otherwise it could have cost even more.

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