Chino Beats Upland & RC In Knuckling Under To Pressure To Adopt Ward Elections

Six months after a Malibu-based law firm first put the arm on Chino, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga to force them to adopt ward voting systems as part of an effort to ensure political representation of ethnic minorities – Hispanics in particular – in those cities, Chino last week became the first to officially knuckle under to the threat of legal action.
In December, Kevin Shenkman, using the letterhead of his firm, Shenkman & Hughes, sent a boilerplate letter to more than a dozen cities in Southern California, including Rancho Cucamonga, Upland and Chino. Noting that the cities “relie[d] upon at-large election system[s] for electing candidates to [their] city council[s],” Shenkman charged that “voting within [those cities] is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution, and therefore [those cities’] at large elections are violative of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. It is our belief [those cities’] at-large system[s] dilute the ability of minority residents – particularly Latinos (a “protected class”) – to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of [those cities’] council elections.” In those letters, Shenkman threatened to sue the cities “on behalf of residents” if those cities’ at-large council systems were not replaced by ones based on district representation.
Shenkman referenced a victory his firm had scored against the City of Palmdale in such a suit, bragging that Palmdale ultimately lost “After spending millions of dollars.”
The Chino City council, in accordance with advice offered by city attorney Jimmy Gutierrez, bowed to the pressure. The city hired two separate consultants, Marguerite Leoni, an attorney, and Douglas Johnson of National Demographics Corporation. Leoni and Johnson facilitated making the transition rapidly. Rather than holding a vote of city residents to ascertain whether they felt the formation of voting districts was appropriate, the city council by executive fiat directed that the city prepare to move toward district-based election by the upcoming election in November.
Less than three months after the council made that resolution, city officials last week completed the task of dividing 29.639-square mile, 77,983 population Chino into four voting districts.
The change will alter the way Chino does political business. Whereas under the at-large system used in the past all registered voters in Chino were eligible to vote in the city council’s elections traditionally held in even numbered years, this year, only residents of districts 1 and 4 will be able to vote for positions on the council. And only those living in those districts will be eligible to run for those council positions, with one candidate from each district getting the highest number of votes being elected. As chance would have it, current council members Glenn Duncan and Tom Haughey live in those districts. Neither faced opposition when they ran in 2012 and in 2008, when residents from anywhere in the city were eligible to run. It is an open question now whether an[y] opponent[s] for either or both will emerge this year now that the pool of potential candidates for those posts has been cut in half.
The theory behind holding ward elections is that racially polarized voting and minority vote dilution as a whole is less likely to occur in a political setting in which a city is divided into districts featuring at least one ward where the allegedly underrepresented minority ethnic group constitutes a majority or near majority of voters. City officials have not publicly said which of the city’s districts, if any, was consciously drawn to ensure it has a majority of Latino voters.
In Chino, as in the other cities, the mayor’s position will remain as one elected at large, so all city residents will be allowed to vote in this year’s mayoral election. Current Mayor Dennis Yates has indicated he will not seek reelection.
In 2018, Chino wards 2 and 3 will be in the election cycle. As chance or design would again have it, council members Eunice Ulloa and Earl Elrod live in those districts and their terms expire in 2018.
Chino residents can get a fix on their city’s district map by going to
Earlier this year, when Shenkman deemed that Rancho Cucamonga officials were not acting with sufficient alacrity, he sued the city, which was served with the lawsuit on March 14. The lawsuit claimed the city was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. The suit sought a court imposed requirement that Rancho Cucamonga have the district system in place by the November election.
That demand was an absurdity, since state law mandates that residents must literally elect to put an electoral ward system in place in cities with a population exceeding 100,000.
The City of Rancho Cucamonga and its attorney, James Markman, did not accede to Shenkman’s demand. Rather the city council voted to establish map criteria by which the city would be divided into four districts each with approximately 43,576 residents, which is one quarter of the city’s current estimated population of 174,305. The city is holding public hearings to assist it in establishing what the electoral map for the city will look like. It is anticipated a measure to approve the ward system as proposed will go before the voters in November. The possibility exists, however, that the voters will reject the imposition of a ward system or the particular ward system as represented by the map.
In Upland, the city council could have used its authority, as did the Chino City Council, to create the district system by drawing up four population-balanced wards and impose them on the city’s voters. Instead, the council chose to send the matter to a vote of the residents. After receiving Shenkman’s letter, the city attorney’s office negotiated with Shenkman’s firm, agreeing to pay Shenkman $45,000 and to draw up the plans for a ward system that the voters could consider. In return, Shenkman offered to hold off on filing the suit, at least until the vote on the district election forming measure is voted upon.
Upland is scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday June 22 at 3 p.m. at Sierra Vista Elementary School at which intends to hear public input on the drawing of the city’s ward system map. Another such meeting will be held on Saturday June 25 at Cabrillo Elementary School at 10 a.m.

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