Chino Hills Mulling Four Of Demographer’s & Two Citizen-Drawn Ward Maps

Six electoral maps for the City of Chino Hills have been drawn up but there is no indication at this time which of those will be actuated with the 2018 election, Mayor Ray Marquez this week told the Sentinel.
Over the last two years, six San Bernardino County cities that traditionally featured at-large city council elections have been forced to embrace ward-based election systems or take substantial steps in that direction. The new election regimes were imposed on those cities as a consequence of the California Voter Rights Act, the terms of which allow a plaintiff or plaintiffs to file legal action alleging polarized voting and collect legal fees upon proving such polarized voting exists.
Because a handful of California cities that resisted challenges made to their election systems under the California Voting Rights Act were unsuccessful in their legal defenses and were forced by the courts to pay substantial amounts to cover those legal fees, most of the cities in San Bernardino County hit with such a demand have made a show of compliance.
A first test case in San Bernardino County was made against the City of Highland, when that city was served with a demand that it alter the way it elects its council members. The lawsuit was filed July 18, 2014 in San Bernardino Superior Court by a Lancaster-based lawyer, R. Rex Parris, in conjunction with the Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes and the Los Angeles-based Law Office of Milton C. Grimes on behalf of Lisa Garrett, a Latina resident of Highland. In response, the city put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot, Measure T, asking if the city’s residents were in favor of a ward system. Measure T went down to defeat, with 2,862 votes or 43.01 percent in favor and 3,793, or 56.99 percent opposed. The lawsuit proceeded and the city sought to assuage the demand by proposing to allow cumulative voting, in which each voter is given one vote for each contested position and is allowed to cast any or all of those votes for any one candidate, or spread the votes among the candidates. The California Voter Rights Act confers upon plaintiffs a significant advantage, such that even if the challenge does not succeed, a plaintiff is not required to pay the prevailing city’s legal fees.
When the matter went to trial, despite making a finding that the socio-economic based rationale presented by the plaintiff’s attorneys to support the need for ward elections was irrelevant and that the plaintiff’s assertion that district voting was the only way to cure the alleged violation of the Voting Rights Act was false, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn mandated that Highland adopt a ward system.
In December 2015 Kevin Shenkman, using the letterhead of his firm, Shenkman & Hughes, sent boilerplate letters to the cities of Chino, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, among nearly a dozen others, asserting the cities “relie[d] upon at-large election system[s] for electing candidates to [their] city council[s]” and 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, referencing his firm’s success in prosecuting just such a case against the City of Palmdale, 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.
Chino responded by having its council pass a resolution on a vote of 4-0, invoking by fiat a by-district election system that was in place for the November 2016 election.
In a highly controversial move that was widely perceived as acceding to extortion, the Upland City Council agreed to draw up the plans for a ward system that the voters could consider. It further agreed to pay Shenkman $45,000 in return for Shenkman holding off on filing the suit against the city. The city council then instituted a ward system in Upland on its own authority.
In Rancho Cucamonga, a city with a population of 165,269, where voters had on five occasions elected Latinos to the city council, officials there likewise capitulated to Shenkman’s threats and the city council followed city attorney James Markman’s advice to have an electoral ward map featuring four districts of roughly 41,317 residents each drawn up, which was submitted to the city’s voters on November 11. The measure codifying that map was approved by the city’s voters by a 63.77 percent to 36.33 percent margin.
The city of Yucaipa, while not yet the subject of a demand that it adopt a ward system, a year ago hired a consultant, the National Demographics Corporation, to review establishing voting districts for electing city council members and to draft district election map options. The city council in June adopted one of those maps featuring five wards. The council said it did so to head off any potential future litigation based upon the California Voter Rights Act.
The Redlands City Council, which on its own initiative in May began looking into converting to a council ward system, was likewise threatened by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in August with legal action if it did not move immediately to put such a system in place. On August 16, the city council held a specially-called meeting at which it somewhat obsequiously approved a resolution establishing the criteria for five voting districts. It is now finalizing a public input process on drawing up the boundaries of those wards.
On August 9, 2016 the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, known by its acronym MALDEF, sent a letter to the Chino Hills City Council informing that body’s members that unspecified Hispanic residents of Chino Hills have complained of polarized voting in the community.
MALDEF attorney Matthew Barragan demanded that Chino Hills dispense with its at-large election system that has been in place since the city’s inception in 1991. Barragan maintains the at-large election system in Chino Hills interferes with Latino voters electing candidates that they favor. Barragan called upon the city council to adopt a resolution converting Chino Hills’ election process into one involving wards, threatening forthcoming legal action if the city council did not do just that by August 24.
At its November 22 meeting, the Chino Hills City Council assented to moving the city toward a district-based system by the next election cycle. In doing so, the current council, which was elected through an at-large voting system as were all other city councils in the city’s 25-year history, enunciated their uniform and unanimous opposition to the council ward concept, but said they had little choice in the matter. Against their own sentiment, the council members voted 5-0 to transition the county’s southwesternmost city from an at-large to a district-based election system.
Last week, the city’s consultant, National Demographics Corporation, the same firm used by several other cities that have moved to ward systems, offered up four maps which divide the city into five districts. Two other maps, one drawn by resident Jim Gallaher and another drafted by resident Luis Esparza, were also presented.
Of the six maps, five show no deference to the current composition of the council in that they place at least two of the council’s members in the same ward, meaning that the incumbents will not necessarily have a built-in advantage in future races and, in fact, at least one or perhaps as many as two of the current council members would be unable to remain in office since at least two and perhaps as many as four would face a current colleague in either the 2018 or 2020 race, if, that is, they all choose to run for reelection and none make a move into a different ward.
Demographic information presented publicly by National Demographics shows that Hispanics in Chino Hills comprise 28.8 percent of the population, the Asian descent population stands at 31.9 percent, the white population, at 50.7 percent, and the African American population is roughly 4.2 percent.
The population of Chino Hills is relatively evenly distributed geographically, although the Los Serranos and Glenmeade districts have a somewhat higher concentration of Latinos than the other parts of the city. A major physical demarcation in the city is Grand Avenue, on both sides of which the Asian population is spread out. The area of the city with the highest Asian population is that to the north.
One of the maps, referred to as Map 4, which was drafted by National Demographics, confers an outright advantage on the incumbents by placing all of them in different districts, such that they would not stand for reelection against one another. In that map, District 1 would be represented by Mayor Ray Marquez, District 2 by Peter Rogers, District 3 by Art Bennett, District 4 by Cynthia Moran, and District 5 by Ed Graham.
Many observers have noted that Chino Hills’ Map 4 appears to be a sop to the incumbent council, which voted to retain National Demographics. Among those observers are ones who see a parallel to what was done for the incumbents in Chino Hills’ immediate eastern neighbor, Chino.
Chino hired Glendale-based National Demographics Corporation to survey the city, determine its balance of ethnicities geographically and draft maps to meet not a five-district model but rather a four-district or six-district one, since the city will continue to elect its mayor at large. In Chino Hills, voters do not elect a mayor directly. Rather, the council chooses from among its members the individual to serve in that capacity, using what is more or less a rotational strategy, such that a council member who is reelected at least once is very likely to be elevated to mayor before his or her second term finishes. With Chino’s overall 77,983 population, National Demographics strove to create districts that were populated with, as close as could be had within reason, 19,496 residents, or one-fourth, of those living in the city. In this way, each district would be equal, or roughly equal, in terms of the number of its constituents, as each of the other wards. National Demographics provided seven map options, involving both four council members and six, on the off chance that the council might decide to increase the council size to six members plus the mayor. There were a number of curiosities about the ward map that was ultimately put into place by the Chino City Council. Significantly, that ward map created districts in which it so happened that each of the two council members in districts One and Four who ran for reelection last year, the first election cycle under the new system, and the two who would have been up for reelection in 2018, lived separately in one of the newly drawn wards, such that they would not need to run against one another come election time. As it turned out, Mayor Dennis Yates did not seek reelection and councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, a resident of the just-created Second District, ran to replace him. The two incumbents who benefited by the drawing of the districts who were up for reelection in 2016, Glenn Duncan and Tom Haughey, after having been reelected at-large in 2012, vied in the race for their respective First and Fourth District council positions, which, again coincidentally, were deemed to be the first two districts to have their council representatives elected under the new ward system. No one opposed Duncan or Haughey. Ulloa prevailed in the mayoral election, capturing 16,683 votes or 68.08 percent to the 7,823 votes or 31.92 percent polled by the non-incumbent candidate, Brandon Villalpando, who ran unsuccessfully against her. Ulloa’s ascendancy to mayor created a vacancy on the council, since she was last elected as a councilwoman in 2014, so two more years yet remained on her council term.
Rather than hold a special election, the city council resolved to appoint Ulloa’s replacement for the next two years. Because the position to which she was elected in 2014 was an at-large one, any resident who was registered to vote was eligible to apply. Less than two months after no city resident had come forward to challenge incumbents Duncan or Haughey, a whopping 27 would-be office holders applied for consideration.
That so many would be interested in holding a council position when the perceived odds were fair and untainted by those running having to compete against incumbents with their built-in advantage of incumbency indicated a widespread perception that the system formulated by National Demographics Corporation, which was paid $32,000 for its efforts by Chino’s taxpayers based upon a vote of the city council, was rigged in favor of the incumbents.
If the Chino Hills City Council takes a leaf from Chino’s book and similarly adopts Map 4, the council runs the risk that it will be perceived, at least by some, as entering into a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement in which the motive is not to formulate the most geographically and demographically logical ward map but to rather ensure the political survival of the incumbents.
Resident Luis Esparza pointed out that Map 4 bifurcates the Butterfield Ranch district such that it places council members Cynthia Moran and Ed Graham into separate districts while the logic of geography without political considerations dictates that they be in the same ward. Esparza suggested that allowing the council members to make the decision on how and where the ward borders are to be drawn, when the contours of those districts will have a direct impact on their chances at gaining reelection in 2018 or 2020, represents “a conflict of interest.” He called for the council to stand down and have the council instead consider voting to accept a map recommended by “a body of citizens.”
Mayor Ray Marquez told the Sentinel that it was his personal sentiment and that of the rest of the council to keep the at-large voting system intact but that option is not viable. “We have the filing of a lawsuit pending, and everyone else who has fought this has lost,” Marquez said. “We don’t want to end up spending money and losing, so we hired a consultant and we now have four maps from that consultant and two from residents.”
Marquez said he is not committed toward supporting any specific map at this point.
“I would prefer to take a step back,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of participation from the community, with the exception of Jim Gallagher and Luis Esparza. I understand that Luis believes that if we as a council get to pick one of the options that is a conflict of interest. My expectation is we will be gathering more input from the residents and will make a choice on May 2.”
With regard to the perception that the maps have been drawn up to confer an advantage on the council incumbents, Marquez noted, “Only one of the maps puts one council member in every district, which is Map 4.”
The council must make its decision based on a multitude of criteria, Marquez said.
“Everything has to balance,” he said. “We have all these pieces of the pie. We are working with all of the data, in terms of population and demographics. I think the consultant pulled that together as best they can.”
Marquez said National Demographics Corporation had used standard guidelines in formulating the proposed wards without being influenced by the council.
“The consultant had no input from us outside of our initial contact with its representative in closed session on the terms of the contract,” Marquez said. “We had nothing to do with the maps, per se.”
He said he understood the public skepticism with regard to the opportunity the map selection presents for creating wards that will benefit the incumbents. Concern that political considerations and an effort to protect the incumbents are driving the map drawing process is misplaced, he said, based on his understanding of the future political intentions of the council members. He ventured to say he did not think that councilman Ed Graham, who will be up for reelection in 2018, and councilman Art Bennett, who must next face the voters in 2020, will extend their tenures on the council beyond their current terms.
Marquez said he is “not even close to the point” of making a determination of what map best suits the community. “I want to listen to what comes up at the public hearings. The only feeling I have seen from the residents is they want to keep it the way it is. I do to, but we can’t spend that kind of money if the courts won’t let us do that.”
There is something of a paradox, Marquez said, to what the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is requesting. The group’s intent is to raise the likelihood that Latinos will run for office and that they will be successful. But that intent is complicated by Chino Hills’demographics and the geographical distribution of its population, which in terms of ethnic make-up, is relatively evenly spread throughout the city with some minor deviation, he said. There is a somewhat higher concentration of Hispanic surnamed individuals in the Los Serranos and Glenmeade districts, though that population density is not absolute.
The Federal Voting Rights Act and federal laws prohibit racial gerrymandering. According to the Supreme Court, in drawing a map, race can’t be the predominate basis upon which lines are drawn, but those lines can nonetheless be placed so as to create a voting district that ensures a majority of a protected class of voters live within the district as long as the district is reasonably compact, meaning that the boundaries cannot be drawn in such a way to exclude non-protected class neighborhoods. Given that those identified as white and Asians in Chino Hills comprise 82.6 percent of the city’s population and that the 28.8 percent of Chino Hills residents deemed Latino are so identified only by using the most inclusive of definitions of what constitutes a Hispanic, creating a Latino district, as is contained in one of the maps drawn up by National Demographics, carries with it the potential of a lawsuit in which a plaintiff would allege the city engaged in prohibited racial or ethnic gerrymandering. In swerving to avoid such a catastrophe, the city may well end up with no Hispanics on the council as a consequence.
Marquez, the lone Hispanic on the council at this time said he is conscious of that irony and had an exchange along those lines with Matthew Barrigan, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund in which, he said, Barrigan did not come across as being engaged on the topic but rather more intent on saddling Chino Hills with an electoral ward system, no matter the outcome. “There’s an agenda there and the majority of the residents of Chino Hills, the vast majority, disagree with it,” Marquez said.
Thus, Marquez finds himself, like the mythic Odysseus, seeking to navigate a safe path between, on one side, the mythic monster of Scylla plucking the sailors off his ship one by one in the form of Esparza, and the whirlpool of Charybdis in the guise of Barrigan, threatening to send the entire ship down to Davy Jones Locker.
Esparza, in taking issue with the fashion in which three of the maps divide the Butterfield Ranch district, is contending an effort should be made to keep each of the city’s traditional neighborhoods in single wards. The map he offered is an attempt to maintain that neighborhood integrity.
Marquez said of Esparza, “Luis is a good man. He’s well intentioned. I am listening to him.” Nevertheless, the mayor said, political decisions are best left in the hands of politicians.
“I was elected for a reason,” Marquez said. “Each member of the council was elected for a reason. We deal with some tough issues, like the city’s finances and density issues. That was what we were elected to do.”
After listening to the community, Marquez said, he and the remainder of the council will choose the ward map that they consider best for the city. “I don’t think it is a conflict of interest for us to be voting on it,” he said. -Mark Gutglueck

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