UPDATE – The Paso Robles City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to initiate procedures for by-district elections. The process is expected to cost approximately $60,000.
The way Paso Robles voters elect council members could soon change.
This comes after a Malibu-based lawyer, Kevin Shenkman, alleged that minority-groups are disenfranchised by the current electoral system in the city.
It’s the topic of Tuesday night’s special meeting.
The city council will consider by-district elections, which means voters would elect a representative from their given district.
Currently, Paso Robles voters can cast their ballots for anyone who is running for city council or the mayoral seat. It’s called an at-large election system.
Assistant City Manager Jim Cogan says with by-district elections, the city would be broken into geographic districts.
"This is the first step in moving toward a by-district election," Cogan said of Tuesday’s meeting.
The possible change and special meeting were sparked by a letter to the city from Shenkman in August.
It reads, in part, "Voting within Paso Robles is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution, and therefore Paso Robles’ at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001."
The letter goes on to say that two of the 27 appointed city officials in Paso Robles are Latino and 34.5 percent of the city’s population is Latino.
San Luis Obispo County Latino Outreach Council President Jacqueline Frederick said, "It doesn’t necessarily need to be ethnicity-based. It could be any other issues you’ve got people in the farming community that may have very different needs in terms of representation than people that live in the core of the downtown area."
How many different districts could there be?
"It’s actually going to be up to the community and the city council to determine that," Cogan explained. "We’ll have a full process for deciding whether it is four districts, so you would have four council members and continue with the mayor at large as we do now, or you could even have up to six districts."
The city will hire a demographer to help determine what makes sense for Paso Robles.
Though Shenkman is threatening litigation, this is not a quick process. It’ll take eight months to finalize and Cogan adds the soonest this could go into effect is 2020. Four public hearings will also be required.
Tuesday’s special meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Back in 2012, Shenkman sued the City of Palmdale for violating the California Voting Rights Act and that city had to pay millions of dollars in legal fees as Shenkman won the case.