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Arroyo Grande switching to district-based city council elections

The ultimate goal is to make it easier to run for a city council seat
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Posted at 6:36 PM, Mar 07, 2022

For the first time, the city of Arroyo Grande is changing how city council members are elected.

"As has happened up and down the state of California we have received a demand threatening a lawsuit or bringing suit against us for having violated the California voting rights act," said Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom.

That threat resulted in a $30,000 settlement that's changing how Arroyo Grande City Council members are elected.

"What we're looking at doing is from having four city council people and a mayor all at large to the mayor retaining an at-large election-based system and creating four districts for the other city council people," explained City Manager Whitney McDonald.

The city council has narrowed the proposed districts down to four maps in a process that allowed community members to draw their own proposed maps.

"The population in each district needs to be roughly equivalent," McDonald said. "We can't have more than 10 percent deviation among two districts so the online mapping tool was great because it did the math for you and I'm always a fan of that."

The ultimate goal is to make it easier to run for a city council seat.

"What they're asking for is a good thing," Russom said. "What they're asking for is the bar to be lower so that more people have access to run and that is always a good thing. I most certainly agree with that and I would love to see more women and people of color being represented at our local level."

It's still unclear whether that goal will be achieved.

Some are also questioning the motive of groups threatening litigation.

"I think it's noteworthy that they didn't attend any of our public meetings," Russom said. "Some cities have settled like ours, especially those that are so small that we don't have the resources to fight something like that."

Other cities are pushing back but for now, Arroyo Grande city officials hope that the change will make the government more inclusive.

"I am only the second elected female in the history of Arroyo Grande so we still have disenfranchised groups," said Russom.

The city council is set to pick one of the four maps at Tuesday night's meeting.

The districts are expected to be finalized in April and the maps will remain in effect until the next census.