Rancho Cucamonga Lawyer’s Open Letter To City Council Regarding Electoral Wards

James Banks, a Rancho Cucamonga resident who has had a legal practice in the city for more than 35 years, wrote the following letter to the Rancho Cucamonga City Council on April 2:
Mayor and Council,
The imposition of districting on Rancho Cucamonga city government is a disaster greater than any faced by this City in the past 35 years, rivaled only by its beginning tax base and the development of the unincorporated area north of the city. While districting may have the benefit of giving minority groups a seat at the table and may allow council members to have a more in depth understanding of their section of the city, these probable benefits are small compared to the certain detriments. The tragic consequences of a ward system will be a guaranteed future of graft, corruption and narrow self-interest in Rancho Cucamonga. We have spectacular examples of these disastrous consequences to the east at the County of San Bernardino and to the west in the City of Los Angeles.
Districting inevitably produces mini-kingdoms. Council members become the equivalent of feudal lords. As a simple illustration, if a proposal is of advantage to District 1 and not a disadvantage to Districts 2, 3, 4, and 5, the other council members will defer to the wishes of the representative in District 1. Each district develops its own power broker structure that protects and promotes itself independently of the entire city. The petty power brokers operate free from checks and balances that would have come from other council members. The County of San Bernardino is a prime example. Petty larceny by government officials surfaces from time to time and major scandals seem to erupt about every 10 years. Illicit deals can be made because nobody is looking and because the people who might stop them won’t because they don’t want interference in their distinct. Larry Walker was an honest Supervisor. Jon Mikels was an honest supervisor. Neither of them could halt county graft and corruption. Indeed, the argument can be made that standing up to it cost Jon Mikels his political career.
Council members in the City of Los Angeles are always identified by their district. They are primarily interested in what happens in their district.
They promote the interests of their Distinct, seeking special projects and favors with minimal regard for the general welfare of the entire city. In fact, they are measured, judged and re-elected or not re-elected by the level of special benefits they carve out for their district. The needs of the city as a whole are subservient at best. It is an inevitable attribute of the district system.
For these and other reasons, if Rancho Cucamonga must comply, I urge you to consider the following:
1 Any ordinance we adopt pursuant to the mandatory state law should, by its own language, sunset whenever there is a substantive change in the state law that requires districting.
2 Great deference should be accorded to our historic communities Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda. Any districting of the city should adhere as closely as possible to the historic boundaries.
3 Historically the boundary between Alta Loma and Cucamonga has been Baseline Street. This boundary line could be moved up to the 210 Freeway if necessary to offset excess population growth in the north part of the city.
Historically the west boundary of Etiwanda has been considered to be near Rochester Avenue. This boundary could be moved east or west as far as necessary to allow Etiwanda to be an equal district.
4 Exert as much pressure as possible through the League of California Cities to reverse this disastrous state legislation. It should not be necessary to sacrifice the well being of the entire community to draw minority groups into the electoral process
5 Consider the following new proposal:
A. Three (3) districts, Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda with boundaries shifted between them to achieve equality.
B. Three (3) council persons elected by district in the normal way.
C. The 4th council seat would rotate each election; one term it would be in Alta Loma, then next term in Cucamonga, the 3rd in Etiwanda and then start over.
D. The mayor would be elected at large.
E. Terms would be two (2) years with a four (4) term limit.
This system would comply with the Act. It would have the benefit of having a 2nd council person in each district on a rotating basis. This would be a 2nd pair of eyes and ears in that district and have the effect of diminishing the power broker tendency in a single representative district.
The three (3) term limit would reduce entrenchment that so often leads to corruption. Finally, for us sentimental “old timers” it recognizes our three (3) community history.
6 Alternatively, consider 3 (historic) districts with one Council member elected from each district and the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Mayor elected at-large. This would leave 2 members watching the welfare of the entire city.
Please do all you can to minimize the negative effects of districting.

James Banks, Jr.

Leave a Reply