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Daily Pilot

Bill would mandate council districts

Costa Mesa is among the cities that would be required to create geographic territories for representation.

By Jill Cowan

9:57 PM PST, February 20, 2014

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Legislation that could force Costa Mesa and other Orange County cities to implement geographic district-based city council elections is expected to be introduced in the state Assembly on Friday, according to a spokesman for Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina).

The bill would require general law cities — meaning they are not governed by charters — with populations of more than 100,000 to switch from citywide council elections to districts.

Hernandez said recently that his proposal addresses the state's shifting demographics.

"Our communities are not homogeneous anymore," he said. "I believe the bill ... gives a lot of strength in bringing government closer together."

Orange, Fullerton and Garden Grove, as well as Norwalk, El Monte and Simi Valley in Los Angeles County, are among the 24 cities that would be affected, according to Hernandez's office.

The move comes as municipalities around California face challenges to their at-large council election systems, which some say stifle diversity in local government.

Latinos, in particular, have struggled to gain representation — even in cities where they make up the majority, Hernandez said, citing Anaheim as an example. The most populous city in Orange County recently agreed to ask voters in November whether to draw council districts, settling a lawsuit that had accused the city of violating the California Voting Rights Act.

In Costa Mesa, where longtime resident Lee Ramos is vying to become the city's first Latino council member in November, some officials have said creating council districts could prove divisive.

A committee appointed to work out the details of a proposed city charter in October dismissed a proposal to include districts in the proposal.