Chino Hills Adopts Alternative Citizen-Drawn Electoral District Map

In an uncommon move, the Chino Hills City Council last week selected an election map for its city that was drawn up by a city resident rather than the demographic analysis company it hired to draw voting districts.
Chino Hills, the 79,492-population municipality at the extreme southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, like more than two dozen cities in Southern California over the last three years, was stampeded into ending its traditional at-large voting system and adopting a ward electoral system. In San Bernardino County, the cities of Highland, Upland, Chino, and Rancho Cucamonga before it were cozened into adopting ward systems under the terms of the California Voting Rights Act. Concurrently, Redlands and Yucaipa are making the same changeover.
The California Voter Rights Act confers upon plaintiffs using it to allege what is termed racially-polarized voting 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. Conversely, a city which fails to vindicate itself in the face of such a challenge must pay the legal fees of the prevailing party.
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 rushed to 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. 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 in Southern California, 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 in November. 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 2016 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. In March, the city council selected a final draft district boundary map to be used in future district-based elections which puts Councilman Eddie Tejeda in District 1, councilman Paul Barich in District 2, Councilwoman Pat Gilbreath in District 4, with mayor Paul Foster and councilman Jon Harrison in District 5. No current member of the council resides in what is to be District 3.
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’s attorney, Matthew Barragan made the demand despite the current and historical presence of Latinos upon the Chino Hills City Council, while maintaining the at-large election system in Chino Hills that existed since the city’s 1991 inception 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.
At its September 27 meeting, the Chino Hills City Council entered into a $31,000 contract with National Demographics Corporation to assist the city with evaluating the California Voting Rights Act requirements and voter districting options. 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.
National Demographics Corporation, which has contracts with scores of California cities for similar work, has been roundly criticized for formulating voting maps which were drawn up in such a way that they conferred upon incumbents an advantage, that is, district maps which placed incumbents alone in creatively drawn districts such that they would not need vie against one another for reelection. Having set the change in motion, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund did not participate in the map derivation effort.
In April, National Demographics Corporation offered up four maps which divide the city into five districts. Four other maps, including one drawn by residents Brian Johsz and Richard Austin, another drafted by Jim Gallagher and another assembled by resident Luis Esparza, were also presented. Despite paying National Demographics Corporation over $30,000 for its work, the city council last week selected the map drawn up by Johsz and Austin. One of the maps, referred to as Map 4, which was drafted by National Demographics, would have conferred 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. The Johsz/Austin map places three of the current council members in a district by themselves; two of the incumbents reside in the same district.
The Johsz and Austin map provides for five irregularly-shaped districts. District One is bordered to the west and northwest by the Diamond Bar city limits, on the lower west by the Orange County border, on the southwest side by Soquel Canyon Road, by Woodview Road progressing east, then by Bayberry Drive; the district is separated along a widely separated sawtooth progression along the northern border of District Five and the border then heads along a mostly northwest tangent along its border with District Three, followed by its border with District Two and then bending by first heading southeasterly along Carbon Canyon Road and turning north at Western Hills Golf Course and Country Club, running to Eucalyptus Avenue from whence it moves northeasterly until somewhat west of Veterans Park; its border then progresses northwesterly once more and loops to run along Chino Hills Parkway northwest until Grand Avenue, which serves as the district’s south border at that point, then goes in an irregular winding direction northward along Monteverde Drive before meeting La Sierra Drive which borders it to the south and east until Chino Avenue, which at that portion of District One forms its southlying border all the way to the Corona Expressway/Highway 71 and the city limits the freeway represents, moving northeasterly until reaching the Los Angeles County border to the north and then meeting the Los Angeles County border on the extreme west side of the city before meeting the Diamond Bar City Limits.
District Two is bordered by Chino Avenue and District 1 to the north, the Corona Expressway [71 Freeway] and city limits to the east, Eucalyptus Avenue to the south on its east side, along Morningfield Drive to Champion Street running southwest to Manor Court and Rustic Drive going south, then Carbon Canyon Road all the way to Carbon Lane as the district border heads at that point north, at which point the western border of District Two continues generally northward at a point slightly west of Carbon Lane and then crosses east of Carbon Lane until Eucalyptus Avenue. The border then follows Eucalyptus Avenue north and bends northeast by east and heads north just east of Ridgeview Drive before looping to become coterminous with Windmill Creek Road all the way to Grand Avenue, which serves as its north border with District 1, beyond which it cuts northwest to meet first Valley View Drive and then Monteverde Drive before conjoining with La Sierra Drive until reaching Chino Avenue.
District Three is bordered by Eucalyptus Avenue at its north, the Corona Expressway/Highway 71 to the east, with its boundary jogging eastward at Chino Hills Parkway and then becoming Ramona Avenue/city limits to the east at that point, then heading west in a line parallel to and just south of Circle Park Lane over to and then along Club House Way. From there the district runs south along Pipeline Avenue to Valley Vista Drive and the border from there undulating westward to just east of Peyton Drive and then along a line parallel and slightly east of Peyton Drive to Woodview Road. The southern border of District Three then runs westward where it is slightly south of Oakcreek Road and then heads across the rolling hills until meeting Old Carbon Canyon Road, which it then follows to Carbon Canyon Road before becoming Rustic Drive, then Champion Avenue, then Monrningfield Drive and connecting with Eucalyptus Avenue.
District Four is bordered by Chino Hills Parkway to the north then by the city limits slightly east of Monte Vista Avenue, with the border then moving east of Fairfield Road until reaching the city limits, which become coterminous with Chino Creek all the way to Pine Avenue, which forms the southern border of District Four. The border runs westward along Pine Avenue, crossing the 71 Freeway to Butterfield Ranch Road and then moves northerly at first along Butterfield Ranch Road and then along a tangent slightly east of Butterfield Ranch Road until heading westward along looping and meandering Soquel Canyon Parkway to Pipeline Avenue, which forms the western border of the district. Club House Way then forms the district’s north border on the west side, with the district line then running eastward slightly south of Circle Park Lane to head north along Ramona Avenue until meeting Chino Hills Parkway.
Landwise, District Five is the largest voting ward in city and, thus, the least densely populated, lying at the extreme south end of the city and San Bernardino County. District 5 borders Orange County on the west up to Soquel Canyon Road where it goes east to Old Woodview Rd. The line then goes north along Peyton Dr. up to Valley Vista Road where it goes east until Pipeline Avenue. It goes south to Soquel Canyon Parkway and then goes east until it meets Butterfield Ranch Road. From there it travels south and turns east along Pine Avenue. Traveling east along Pine Avenue it turns south along State Route 71 until it hits the Riverside County line. The district completely boarders Corona on the south from that point on.
Johsz was reluctant to take credit for the map. “The map that we worked on simply took a National Demographics Corporation map and made a few simple changes, the biggest change being the placement of all of the Butterfield Ranch neighborhood in one district by placing the district line between 4 and 5 at Pine Avenue,” Johsz said. “National Demographics Corporation certainly laid the groundwork for the map that was chosen.”
Johsz said, “In college I had classes on some of the fundamentals about districting, “one person, one vote” etc. So I understood the basics of what should be viable and acceptable under the California Voter Rights Act.”
Johsz said, “The city had asked for input and suggestions from the public on how they thought the lines should be drawn. Other residents also made suggestions. The city was very open to hearing input from residents and showing what the potential districts could look like.”
Johsz said the current makeup of the council and the preferences the voters have shown in the past were a consideration in approaching the creation of the map, but not an overriding one.
“I know where the current council members reside,” Johsz said. “The topic of having them drawn into the same district was addressed a few times at the council meetings. We wanted to avoid putting any of them together. However, two will be in District 5 together, but one will not be seeking reelection.”
Luis Esparza questioned the wisdom of placing the Butterfield Ranch District into two wards and he went on record as saying the city council should not be the body ultimately deciding the lay of the districts, given the contour of those districts may have an impact on their future electability. -Mark Gutglueck

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