I (Zoom) attended a Woodside Town Council special meeting on March 15. Should the town stay with seven districts, which had existed since the town's incorporation in 1956, or reduce the number of districts, and council members, to five?
Public discussion and written input made it abundantly clear that residents and constituents strongly favored staying with seven. That would require work by the council members, town staff, and/or their hired consultant to adjust some districts to have approximately the same number of people, within 10%, in each voting district. Logically, many constituents didn't want their district cut up or consolidated with an existing district that had different interests and more votes.
The consultant hired by the town provided conflicting information, had no understanding of Woodside districts or history and, absent such understanding and adequate guidance from the town, had created voluminous, inconsequential work and at best offered an array of maps, charts, graphs, and educated guesses about redistricting relative to "census blocks."
The Town Council was concerned about lawsuits against the town. The town attorney seemed to have some knowledge of, and spent unnecessary time on, the chance of lawsuits in the area of election "from" vs "by" district – which was previously resolved and not the subject of this meeting. Much of his time was parroting what the consultant said about redistricting, and speculating about what possible scenarios might, possibly, could, maybe result in the town being sued in their redistricting.
Even when it was pointed out by an attorney in the audience (with years of town committee experience) that such a suit was highly unlikely if they stayed with seven, the town attorney couldn't definitively address the subject.
Once public discussion ended the town council members "deliberated" – and in Woodside, unlike many other towns, there is no public discussion or correction of erroneous statements by council members allowed once the council cuts off public discussion to "deliberate" – so it didn't matter what residents had written, said, or would have said.
Council members acknowledged that their constituents overwhelmingly favored seven districts. Then, like one former president who didn't read or heed U.S. history or civics, several council members asserted their personal, unsupported opinions that reducing districts does not suppress the vote (even though people who don't believe they're heard are less likely to vote); would not lessen discussions/debates (and, in fact, five people would somehow create more debate?); and that a five-person council would listen to and represent all the people of Woodside just as well as seven.
Based on these comments, and those by council at the prior meeting (including that it was easier to divide a population of 5,000 by five) I anticipated the council might ignore their constituents in favor of the easiest resolve; and that this meeting and process was a charade, a "done deal" before this meeting ever took place. The Council had kicked this can down the road since November and now, armed with the excuse that they had conducted several meetings, had input from a consultant and attorney, and that an April deadline was fast approaching, they were not about to do the extra work to maintain the seven districts. And they hadn't finalized a map showing division of districts.
With that, they held their vote, all but two ignoring the desires of their constituents, and voted to move forward with reducing the number of districts and the size of future town councils. If this larger council can ignore their constituents so effectively, imagine what five will do? A sad statement about representative democracy and about Woodside.
Kevin Greenwood is a resident of the Woodside Hills neighborhood in Woodside.