Public to comment on Pleasant Hill’s district mapping
PLEASANT HILL, CA (May 18, 2023) — The wall of the community room at City Hall resembled a kindergarten art show, with blown-up pictures scribbled with bright colors, some outside the lines. But these pieces of “art” won’t end up on anyone’s refrigerator – but instead pave the way to the city’s future.
The artwork was five maps of Pleasant Hill representing the new way residents will choose their city representatives: through district elections. Each color denoted a different district from which residents will select their City Council representatives.
Upholding voter rights
The city is following in the steps of neighbors Martinez, Concord, Walnut Creek and San Ramon, mid- to large-sized municipalities who don’t have adequate representation of the demographic makeup of their community on the council dais, according to a decades-old voting rights law.
Cities up and down California are responding – some very grudgingly – to a potential lawsuit from Shenkman & Hughes. The law firm has taken on the issue of at-large elections in cities where the council is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), insisting the cities transition to by-district elections.
In many communities it makes sense, according to local advocates of fair voting rights. Even the League of Women Voters is taking strong positions to ensure that cities take action for “representative democracy,” and local committee members recommended that Pleasant Hill adopt by-district elections.
Representing varied demographics
Longtime Pleasant Hill resident Karen Yapp can see the value of the change. The Woodside Meadows resident was a former campaign manager and volunteer for City Council candidates.
“Three of our City Council members right now live in Poet’s Corner,” she says. “Two are even next-door neighbors. We’ve had that before, even in my neighborhood, and the council members socialize together and see each other often. They do reflect a very similar demographic.”
The lawsuit alleges that there are many underrepresented minorities – in ethnicity, age and wealth – who are not getting adequate representation at a city government level, which is why the city is scrambling to meet a June deadline to change to district elections or face millions of dollars in state fines.
And that’s where the colorful maps come in.
“I’m in favor of district elections, as long as the maps are drawn right” says 22-year resident Marian Shostrom.
She attended the May 6 special City Council meeting soliciting public input on several maps. A demographer drew two maps, after the city hired the consultant to use 2020 Census data and different algorithms to determine the districts.
“They were terrible,” Shostrom says. “One split the College Park and Poet’s Corner neighborhoods into two different districts, and Gregory Gardens into three.”
She says that while diversity is “vitally important,” so is maintaining the character of long-established neighborhoods.
Maps drawn by residents were also displayed at the public meeting, which was sparsely attended by only about 25 residents. In information provided to the Pioneer, Mayor Tim Flaherty said the council has 11 maps identifying either a five-district council or a four-district council with a citywide direct-elect mayor.
“At the last public meeting on May 6, the focus was on a five-district map but no substantive discussion occurred on a four-district map. This is primarily because the four-district maps had yet been vetted by the demographer to assure compliance,” Flaherty wrote.
He said the four-district maps should be available for discussion at the May 22 meeting.
Questioning lawsuit tactics
One person who did express his dismay at the idea of district elections was former Concord Councilmember Tim McGallian, who was unseated in his district by Laura Nakamura in last November’s elections.
“It’s not sour grapes,” McGallian said. “I think district elections are devastating to a community. When I was on the council, even though I represented my district, I was involved in other things as well, such as transportation and economic development. I didn’t say, ‘That’s not in my district, I don’t care.’ I represented my district, but also the whole of Concord. That’s a council member’s responsibility.”
He says the Shenkman & Hughes lawsuit should only be directed at larger cities of 250,000, where many areas are disenfranchised, and neighborhood advocacy and political groups are stronger. “There are people who are electable in those types of districts and should be on a City Council.”
Still, the laws aren’t working that way now. Besides the five maps featured on the wall on May 6, seven more have been submitted for review by the demographer – to make sure of the population makeup – and run through the city attorney’s office, says Geoff Gillette, Pleasant Hill’s community relations manager.
Once they have been vetted, the 17- by 11-inch maps will be put in packets available at City Hall, the library and on the city of Pleasant Hill’s website.
He expressed frustration about his efforts to get the word out about the advent of district elections, as not many people seemed interested to comment.
“We sent out information to residents, put it on social media and on a sign by the library, and still not many people have shown up to the public meetings.”
He said residents could also email the council about their map preferences and/or concerns.
The city held one community meeting at an April council meeting, and the third and possibly final opportunity for input will be the May 22 meeting held only for feedback on the district maps, he said. The meeting will either be in the council chambers or a community room, with Zoom opportunities as well.
For more information on attending via Zoom or in person, visit www.pleasanthill.org/districts.
Who Lives in Pleasant Hill?
According to the most recent American Community Survey, here are the demographics of Pleasant Hill:
The racial composition is:
- White: 69.45%
- Asian: 13.88%
- Two or more races: 8.64%
- Other race: 4.13%
- Black or African American: 3.25%
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.53%
- Native American: 0
The average household income in Pleasant Hill is $139,455 with a poverty rate of 8.44%.The median age in Pleasant Hill is 42.2 years, 41.1 years for males, and 43.7 years for females.
The current Pleasant Hill City Council is made up of four white men and one white woman.
Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer.