Santa Clara seeks applicants to help draw future election districts
Santa Clara City Council members meeting Tuesday, June 26. Photo credit: Janice Bitters

    Santa Clara’s March 2020 ballot will include a question to determine how future City Council members are elected, but first the city is building a committee to help create that pivotal question — and they need volunteers by June 28.

    The timeline to apply for the committee, known as the Charter Review Committee, has been fast-tracked to ensure the question makes it on the March primary election ballot, earlier than city officials planned.

    The saga of why and how the city of Santa Clara was ordered by a judge last year to change its election process amid concerns around minority representation is a winding one that still hasn’t ended: The city is appealing the decision now. The ballot question was moved from the November ballot to the March ballot due to requirements related to the appeal, according to city staff members.

    In the meantime, Santa Clara officials are complying with the judge’s order, and responding to a November 2018 ballot question, known as Measure N, in which 70 percent of residents supported exploring a move toward district elections in the city, rather than electing all city council members at-large. The city is starting by creating the Charter Review Committee, which will represent and get feedback from residents in the six districts that were recommended by the judge for future elections. One member will be an at-large position, representing the entire city.

    Click here for an interactive map of the districts.

    The map above shows how the districts are currently divided up in Santa Clara. Credit: City of Santa Clara

    “In both plans [for the March or November ballot] we did have ample time for the Charter Review Committee to hold several meetings with the community to gauge and take a pulse on whether the community likes the current [six] district plan, or whether they would like to do something different with the arrangement of districts or have no districts at all,” City Clerk Hosam Haggag assured councilmembers in a public meeting earlier this month.

    Measure N came about as a response to the city’s longstanding lack of minority representation on the City Council, a situation that supporters of the measure said may be remedied by splitting the city up into distinct districts for municipal election purposes, according to a lawsuit brought by lawyer Robert Rubin against the city.

    Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle agreed with Rubin, ordering the city be split into districts, but city officials are pushing back on those findings with an appeal. Meanwhile, Santa Clara’s last council election in 2018 was held based on the six district plan, when Karen Hardy and Raj Chahal were elected to the council.

    If any of the positions don’t receive interest from a resident, the city councilmember representing that district or the mayor will find and appoint their own Charter Review Committee member.

    “As a Santa Clara resident, I urge my fellow residents to make their voices known as to how they want their council members elected,” City Attorney Brian Doyle said in an interview about the process.

    Applications are due June 28. City Council members will interview applicants on July 10. The Charter Review Committee will meet over the summer and fall to get resident feedback before the question — which will be residents’ option for how city leaders are elected — shows up on the ballot on March 3, 2020.

    For more information on Measure N, how to apply to the committee and the proposed dates for community meetings visit the city’s website here.

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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