Woodside Town Council will gradually move from a seven- to five-member body, as it transitions to a "by-district" system for electing council members. But a resident, feeling the council has ignored public input, is considering creating a ballot initiative to keep it as a larger body.
By a vote of 4-1 on Tuesday, April 12, with Councilman Ned Fluet opposed and council members Jenn Wall and Sean Scott absent, the council chose to shrink its membership over the next two election cycles.
Fluet told The Almanac Wednesday in an email that he voted no because last week, the Town Council reviewed a different five-district map that kept the neighborhood north of Jefferson Avenue in one voting district. "I thought that map was more equitable and was strongly supported by the residents in that community," he said. "I believe the map that was approved last night by the town council unnecessarily divided a neighborhood and lacked strong community support."
During the council's April 7 meeting, resident Kevin Greenwood expressed his frustration with the council for not listening with the majority of constituents who supported sticking to a seven-member council. He said if the council adopted the new five-member district map, he would launch a ballot initiative asking voters to require the town to have seven council members. For a citizens' initiative measure to be placed on a ballot, proponents must gather the signatures of 10% of registered voters.
"If you can't listen to constituents then maybe you should recuse yourself from the votes or you should resign," Greenwood told the council. "If you don't want to work for us, get out."
The majority of council members supported moving to five members, as the town attorney indicated Woodside could open itself up to litigation if it broke up Census blocks, potentially costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to March 29 council meeting minutes.
Town staff warned officials during an April 5 meeting that if the council missed the April 17 deadline for submitting a new map, it could face a $30,000 fine, according to the meeting minutes.
The council began the process in March 2021 to transition from a so-called from-district system, in which candidates must live in a given district but are elected by all the town's voters, to a "by-district" system, in which only voters residing in a district elect a representative to its council seat. The change is necessary because the old system is a form of at-large elections that is not allowed under the California Voting Rights Act.
The transition to the five-member by-district council would happen over the next two election cycles. The proposed ordinance provides that elections for new council districts 2 and 3 will be held every four years starting in 2022 and elections for new council districts 1, 3 and 5 will be held in 2024 and every four years afterward, according to the town website. Each district will elect one town council member, according to a town presentation.
Current council members will complete the term of office that they have been elected to fill. Mayor Dick Brown and councilmen Sean Scott and Brian Dombkowski are up for reelection this fall. The four other council members' terms expire in 2024.
Current districts are not balanced by population and do not line up with 2020 Census geography, according to the staff presentation.
The council selected its preferred redistricting map on March 15.
Opposition to shrinking the council
The town received a number of letters from residents who are inclined to support sticking to a seven-member Town Council.
During a March 29 council meeting, Councilman Fluet said he took issue with the idea that somehow the vast majority of people the council has heard from who are in support of seven-member districts got it wrong. He supported one of the five-member maps the public crafted.
"There is just as much risk with breaking up communities of interest as there is with breaking up census blocks," he said during the meeting. "We have heard the public loud and clear that this is a map they support."
Councilman Brian Dombkowski explained that he and other town officials couldn't find a seven-member map that met the federal and state mandates, and made any sense for Woodside.
Councilwoman Jenn Wall said that with seven members, the council has a "healthy debate." She was concerned about having two fewer voices on the council, especially at meetings where a council member is inevitably going to be absent.
Mayor Dick Brown said at the same meeting that the core communities of interest remain intact on a five-district map: he didn't see the Glens, Woodside Hills, Woodside Heights or Old La Honda Road split.
For more information on the redistricting process go here.