Menlo Park: committee selects favored election maps

Members support splitting city into five electoral districts

After considering nearly 40 maps and spending hours in intensive meetings held over the past month, Menlo Park's nine-member Advisory Districting Committee voted Feb. 22 in favor of two final maps to recommend to the City Council for approval: one with five districts, the other with six. The committee also voted unanimously to recommend the council move forward with a five-district election plan.

The district maps are intended to divide the city fairly, and the boundaries must be finalized by the November election if the city of Menlo Park is to avoid a threatened lawsuit. The threatened suit alleges that the city violates the California Voting Rights Act because its at-large election system – in which all voters may vote for any council candidate – makes it harder to elect minority candidates.

When considering three options for a five-member district, seven members of the committee supported map map 5-007a, while two supported map map 5-007b; a third option, 5-007c, was not supported.

One argument committee members presented in favor of map 5-007b is that it would have boundaries in which three districts would touch El Camino Real, which could yield a council with a greater stake in addressing problems on the city's El Camino Real corridor.

Ultimately, though, the lines in map 5-007a made the districts more compact and visually coherent, committee members said, while also complying with state and federal requirements.

The committee issued a memo indicating how it reached its conclusions. According to the statement, the committee's primary criteria were to comply with the federal and state voting rights laws, respect existing neighborhood boundaries, balance population reasonably fairly, and make logical visual sense.

Secondary criteria were factors like school attendance areas, compactness, areas with shared neighborhood problems, clear boundaries such as main roads, how district boundaries might affect incumbents, and a district's possible makeup of homeowners versus renters or residents of single-family versus multi-family housing.

Go to to access the memo.

Five or six?

The committee was tasked with coming up with recommendations for a five- and a six-district city. But it was clear that after deliberations, members favored a five-district alternative, and ultimately voted unanimously to recommend to the City Council that it go with five districts.

Following through on its commitment, though, the committee gathered six votes in map 6-007b.

Belle Haven resident Pam Jones said she objected to a six-district system because it could dilute the voting power of the Belle Haven district being created.

With six districts, the city would also have a separately elected mayor.

"I don't believe it's good for Menlo Park to go that route," said Steve Chessin, president of Californians for Electoral Reform, an election reform nonprofit, and someone who has been following the matter closely.

Committee member Michael Hoff suggested recommending a six-district option with clear problems, or one that would put two council incumbents in the same district, in order to discourage the council from adopting a six-district plan. The council could be inherently biased toward a six-district system if it allows members to keep their seats, pointed out committee member Mike Cohen.


The other major question the committee was tasked with answering is which districts will be subject to an election first.

Ultimately, the committee voted 8-0-1, with committee member Michael Hoff abstaining, that under the recommended five-district map, the city could have elections for three seats in 2018 for districts 1, 2 and 4.

The District 1 seat is currently vacant, and District 2's seat is currently occupied by Councilwoman Kirsten Keith; two current council members, Rich Cline and Peter Ohtaki, live in District 4.

In 2020, the city would then hold elections for the seats for District 3 – which is currently vacant – and District 5; council members Catherine Carlton and Ray Mueller live in that district.

Under that plan, District 3 would not have representation until 2020, even though there is at least one Menlo Park resident of that district interested in running for the position: Jennifer Wolosin, founder of Parents for Safe Routes. She has already filed a document with the city indicating she plans to start collecting campaign funds, up to $2,000.

"In the event that the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to be prepared," she told the Almanac. She said she has been meeting with local leaders and others in the community over coffee and telling people she's considering running for council, noting, "I don't think I'll stop doing that even if elections are pushed back two years."

She added: "I don't see how this whole lack of representation could have been avoided, given this transition period, but it remains to be seen how this will play out. I don't know if those who live in District 3 realize the implication of what's about to happen to them in terms of having a voice."

With six districts, the sequencing would be more complicated. In 2018, the city would hold elections for one two-year term and three four-year terms. It would hold an election for a two-year term for District 3, and four-year-term elections for districts 1, 2, and 4, plus a mayor. Then, in 2020, the District 3 seat would be up for re-election along with the seats in districts 5 and 6 for a four-year term.

The committee's deliberations, according to Ms. Jones, "represented the best part of democracy."

The Menlo Park City Council is tentatively scheduled to review the district maps on March 13, but the matter may be postponed due to expected council absences, according to interim City Clerk Clay Curtin.


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Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Why is West Menlo so sliced up? Maybe because all the current Council lives there and they want to hold their seats?

My vote is for Jerry Mander next time.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park

on Feb 23, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 2:53 pm

really?: West Menlo is 'sliced up' because districts have to be about the same size population, namely 1/5 of the total MP population, for 5 districts. Pieces are taken here and there to give residential areas and businesses both to districts, or to divide along large streets, etc. City council had nothing to do with creating these maps. Only 3 districts will vote in 2018, probably with District 1 (Belle Haven) being one of them. Which other 2 districts vote is up to residents/city council when the council reviews the proposed map(s). So if you can lobby for which districts get to vote which implies which incumbents can run or not.

4 people like this
Posted by Enuff
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 3:18 pm

How about we keep our general election as always, and meet the unconstitutional lawsuit head-on in court--if it even materializes?
Why must our City Council and City Attorney immediately cave whenever anyone uses the word "lawsuit"?
We have a small city as it is. It doesn't make sense to Balkanize it this way.

11 people like this
Posted by Looks Good
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:24 am

These actually look OK, given the constraints. Michael Hoff seems a little "off" if he was talking about deliberately stacking the deck against the 6-district option, WITH A REPORTER LISTENING, but that's a separate issue. Hi, Michael- you know we can hear you?

Everyone complaining about the situation we're in should take a deep breath and start focusing on finding great candidates for all of the districts. It should be a lively election season!

Like this comment
Posted by SHD Elected Director
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 24, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Councilmembers, I hope you can avoid the fiasco that the Sequoia Healthcare District is experiencing in it's switch to Zone elections. See: Web Link
One of the things we learned from the demographer was that minorities are better served by Presidential election cycles. I would advise you to create 3 Districts on the Presidential cycle and 2 on the Gubernatorial cycle.

The following scenario would accomplish that:

District 1. A 2018 election for a 2 year seat would put it on the Presidential cycle.

District 2. (Keith) A 2018 election for a 2 year term would put it on the Presidential cycle.

District 3. Should hold it's first election in 2020, putting it on the Presidential cycle.

District 4.(Cline and Ohtaki) Should have an election in 2018 and remain on the Gubernatorial cycle.

District 5.(Carlton and Mueller) 2020 election for a 2 year term would put it on the Gubernatorial cycle.

2 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 4:59 pm

On the above : The CC could decide to have District 1 (Belle Haven) vote in 2020 instead of 2018 to get better voter turnout. This was discussed by the committee. A number of BH residents spoke in favor of 2018. This important choice should be discussed by CC.
Also, on the earlier comment about sticking to our current system - all cities who have tried that to date have not only lost in court, they were stuck with multi-million dollar court costs generated by inflated teams of lawyers and consultants. It’s pretty bogus (eg heavily criticized by Harvard law profs in the law journals) but that’s the way it is. The main author of the CA Voting Rights Act (which extends the federal law a lot), making the court fees insurmountable, said himself , when asked if districts are generally desirable, the goal is to attain political power.

7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 27, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The irony is that District 1 will probably be dominated by Facebook employees when all the new apartments are finished and the historical residents East of 101 will remain unrepresented.

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Mar 1, 2018 at 6:59 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Another possibility to fill all district seats would be to have an election in District 3 for a 2 year seat, and allow only one vote in in District 5 by combining the votes of Carlton and Mueller.

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Posted by some history
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Carpenter writes, "...District 1 will probably be dominated by Facebook employees... and the historical residents East of 101 will remain unrepresented."

Council member Keith's mother attended Belle Haven School when here grandparents lived in Belle Haven in the 50's. Billy Ray White, who moved to Belle Haven in the 60's, and later knocked out two incumbents in 1978 (Ira Bonde and Jenniffer Bigelow) to become the peninsula's first black council member and first black mayor. When Billy Ray White, ran for re-election in 1982, with 8 candidates running, he came in 1st place with a 700 vote spread to Jack Morris who came in 2nd place.

2 people like this
Posted by Illegal
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:17 am

Moving to a six district election with a city wide Mayor without a vote of the public would be illegal. The City needs to vote whether to add a Councilmember or move to a city wide Mayor.

5 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Let me get this straight.

The City gets sued under the theory a resident of Belle Haven can't get elected city wide. The suit has enough merit, the city is forced to change to district elections. But the politically ambitious geniuses decide that the same night they want to consider going to a city wide election for Mayor, presumably that a person from Belle Haven could never win. How could that possibly be legal?

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Posted by legal
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 7, 2018 at 7:36 pm

As a general law city, Menlo Park can choose to have 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 districts, with an elected mayor with the even numbers.

The City was sued under the CVRA, not a theory. No defendant has ever successfully prevailed against a CRWA lawsuit because the law was drafted by plaintiff attorneys. There are no politically ambitious geniuses.

5 people like this
Posted by Spare us
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 9, 2018 at 9:00 am

Please spare us. A city wide mayoral election?

The next thing you know there will be a billboard on highway 101 again with Kirsten Keith's face on it, right over the Willow Road intersection mess that has her initials on it.

It's not hard to guess Kirsten will probably push for this.

The vast majority of people don't want it. The City Council shouldn't be allowed to change the system this way without a City wide vote on the matter.

2 people like this
Posted by very reasonable
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 9, 2018 at 10:09 pm

@spare_us writes that Keith will go against the committee recommendation to push for a city-wide mayoral election.

Here in the Willows we know Keith and the rest of the council to be very reasonable, so we disagree. Still, it would be very entertaining for @spare_us the come before council, during public comment, to repeat some of this vitriol.

The best outcome for the residents and council will be to accept the committee recommendation, and then move ahead with a city charter that solely to address the election process. By 2020, the city could then move forward with from-district elections in all but District 1, returning most of the city to the system of government they want.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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