By Stuart Soffer
Districts One, Three and Four for ‘18Uploaded: Mar 4, 2018
Menlo Park Districts One,Three and Four should elect council members this November. Having said that, let me explain.
Preceding the 2016 Menlo Park City Council election I posted an analysis of the lopsided distribution of council members across Menlo Park geography here:
The graphic map of Menlo Park earned some note, as it highlighted the over-representation of 4 of our 5 council members from the far west side of Menlo Park compared with the remainder of the city. Another stark observation was with so much development and its consequences - such as rising traffic and housing demand – there was a noticeable lack of representation for the area of town most immediately impacted. Think Facebook 3.5 M square feet of office!
One 2016 candidate Cecilia Taylor, a resident of the Belle Haven neighborhood on the East Side came close, but lost her bid. This loss, and the lopsided west-side representation, cast a spotlight on city-wide ‘at-large’ voting – where all voters may vote for any candidate regardless of where they live.
II. A Phantom Lawsuit
As a consequence of the above, the City of Menlo Park was notified by Malibu Attorney Kevin Shenkman that he represented an anonymous party, and that, if the city didn’t reorganize into districts instead of ‘at large’ election model, that he would file suit against the city on behalf of his anonymous plaintiff. See, ‘Law firm threatens to sue Menlo Park over elections.’
Menlo Park has considered anonymous lawsuits before, which puts voters of Menlo Park at a disadvantage. We should know who is behind a suit . The public deserves to be informed. In this case, the public should be assured that the plaintiff has no personal interest in the upcoming elections or an issue coming before the council.
So now under threat of litigation MP has rushed through a public process to divide our city five districts each with separately elected council members. Fair enough.
III. A District Map and Plan Evolves
The council and city staff have engaged an outside demographer, and organized a citizen’s committee that evaluated the proposals, and effects on current council members. The review included potential models for a 5-district council and a 6-district council with an elected mayor. These models were based on geographic history of Menlo Park, data on race, income, education, and voter status. The statistical demographic data in this report is very interesting – if you’re a data wonk. I was impressed with the job the committee provided.
Also we now have an opportunity for the council to establish term limits. In my experience, 2 terms is more than enough. Three terms can and have produced council members who suffer fatigue, resulting in minimal participation, and passive acceptance of Staff’s recommendations. Three terms seem like torture for the incumbents – and residents.
Here is a link to Advisory Districting Committee Recommendations.
Here is the 5 district proposal:
IV. But hold on - there is an historical gotcha
Another issue the District Election Committee needed to navigate was how to phase in new districts over the next two elections – providing an equitable remedy while allowing current council members to sunset their terms. Upcoming in November 2018 are three seats up for renewal; and in 2020 the remaining two seats would up for vote. The committee proposes this sequence:
The plan remedies the Belle Haven (District 1) voter profile, and guarantees a BelleHaven resident seated on the city council. However, there remains a glaring problem with District 3 (Linfield Oaks – Felton Gables – Mills court, Vintage Oaks) which has suffered from a long history of minimal council representation with only 2 council members in 37 years.
This November election using either the 5 council member or 6 council member plus mayor scenario gives District 1 (Belle Haven) a seat. Currently the plan is to allow District 2 (The Willows) to hold an election that could give current Council Member Kirsten Keith running for a third term, bringing her imprint to 12 years; District 4 (Allied Arts and west) is also scheduled for an election that could hand a 4th term to current Council Member Rich Cline or a 3rd term to Council Member Peter Ohtaki. This sequence keeps the power base in the west side of the city and while the issue of race may not be a factor, the underlying issue of fairness is not being addressed.
If one looks at the geographical representation history throughout the city and applies the proposed district template, an anomaly emerges. The map below superimposes this historical data on the proposed five council member Plan 5-007a. While redistricting emerged from a desire to remedy a potential inequity for District 1 (Belle Haven), it turns out that there is another historically under-represented district when viewed through the same lens as Belle Haven. Take a look at the proposed District 3 (Linfield Oaks, Felton Gables – Mills court, Vintage Oaks).
Map 5-007a with Historic Council Residency.:
Table 1 below, shows that District 3 has had only one more council member than Belle Haven dating back to 1979. It shows that The Willows and West side have dominated city government for many years and should not be allowed to run a council candidate this year. This is an opportunity to balance representation on the council by guaranteeing a seat for Belle Haven and also allowing an entire section (District 3) of the city to finally have representation. District 3 shares some of the same land-use and zoning characteristics as Belle Haven. Thousands of square feet of office buildings have been approved in both Districts 1 and 3. The Willows and Sharon Heights can hold their district election in 2020 after district 1, 3 and 4 hold theirs this year.
Considering the historic representation of the proposed districts, Belle Haven is remedied. However, District 3 (Linfield) has the same characteristics as Belle Haven of no council representation – but similarly impacted by zoning decisions, as District 1. Specifically, nearly all east-west traffic traverses District 3, and District 3 has significant potential parcels for redevelopment.
Hence, District 3 should also be allowed to run a candidate in the upcoming 2018 election – by swapping Districts 2 and 3 in the above voting schedule. It has had only one council member in more than 25 years.
And this explains the above catchy screed title ‘One, Three and Four’ for ’18.
V. Please speak up and/or write the city council
The Redistricting Committee’s plans and recommendations will be discussed at a City Council public hearing tentatively scheduled for March 13, 2018. Please write the council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1: Former Council Members And The District In Which Each Would Have Resided Had There Been District Elections In The Eighties.
District 1: Belle Haven
Billy Ray White 1978-1986
District 2: Willows
Bob Stephens 1968-1976
Ted Sorenson 1982-1986 and 1988-1992
Jack Morris 1982-1994
Gail Slocum 1990-1994
Steve Schmidt 1994-2002
Bernie Nevin 1994-1998
Paul Collacchi 1996-2004
Micki Winkler 2002-2006
Kelly Fergusson 2004-2012
* Kirsten Keith 2010-2018
District 3: Linfield Oaks, Vintage Oaks. South Seminary, Felton Gables
Peg Gunn 1980-1988
Andy Cohen 2004-2012
District 4: Allied Arts, Downtown
Gerry Andeen 1978-1982
Bob McManara 1990-1994
Chuck Kinney 1996-2004
Nicholas Jellins 1998-2006
* Rich Cline 2006-2018
* Peter Ohtaki 2010-2018
District 5: West Menlo Sharon Heights
Jan La Fetra 1986-1990
Kay Paar 1981-1984
Cal Jones 1986-1990-1992-1996
Gerry Grant 1988-1992
Dee Tolles 1992-1996
Bob Burmeister 1994-1998
Mary Jo Borak 1998-2002
Lee Duboc 2002-2006
John Boyle 2006-2010
Heyward Robinson 2006-2010
* Ray Mueller 2012-2016
* Cat Carlton 2012-2016
(* = currently serving on the City Council)