Lookout Update: District maps decided upon for new-look Santa Cruz voting system; so what happens next?

An aerial view of downtown Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz will soon have districted elections — but what do those lines really mean in terms of city governance and representation?
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz City Council chose two different maps that will be put to voters on June 7. Santa Cruzans will for the first time vote for a single representative based on the area where they live within the city. They will also decide between the current rotating mayoral system and an independently elected mayor who would serve a four-year term.

The city of Santa Cruz will have a completely different city governance structure later this year, as the city adopts a district voting system in order to avoid a costly lawsuit.

A logo for a Lookout update on the Santa Cruz districting process

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council voted on the 11 options for district maps, including for both a six-district model and a seven-district model, which will be presented to the city’s voters in the June 7 primary. After nearly three hours of deliberation among the council’s seven members, the selected options are Map 602, for a six-district system with an at-large mayor, and Map 101, for a seven-district system with a rotating mayor.

Map 602 has four districts that touch the Pacific Ocean, as well as two districts that include the UC Santa Cruz campus. Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson said she believes the map has the “most balanced” approach to keeping communities of interest intact, including Seabright. Councilmember Donna Meyers said the map further “establishes communities of common concern,” addressing neighborhood, business and services’ voices in representation.

The proposed six-district system.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

Map 101 follows major roads for each district’s boundaries; the university would make up one district. Councilmembers Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown both expressed concern that this map’s proposed districts would dilute the voices of minority and low-income voters, and voted against it.

The rapid decision comes on the heels of a threatened lawsuit against the city, like many others levied across the state, based on the premise that district elections provide more diverse representation on a city council.

The proposed seven-district map.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

The city received the notice in February 2020, and chose to enter a settlement agreement in May 2020 to avoid potential litigation, with the goal to transition to district elections by November 2022. The city council presented the current maps and others to the public on Feb. 22.

Kalantari-Johnson said Tuesday that, regardless of people’s feelings on whether the city goes to district elections or not, “we’ve sort of moved on from there.”

“It’s not about me or about my six colleagues, but it’s really about the next many decades — I think this is difficult,” she said. “All of the maps have trade-offs and impacts, and I just don’t think delaying any longer will get us any closer to making the perfect decision because I don’t think the perfect map exists.”

The current city council — with six women, four members of color, and three Black members — is the most diverse in Santa Cruz’s history. With the switch to districting, there is some concern among current and former city politicians regarding how minority groups could be appropriately represented.

Brown — who dissented against both map options — said she believes this is “a fundamentally anti-democratic process” for voters to not fully choose if they want districted elections or not: “I think it undermines this whole process, the way that this has been pushed through so quickly.”

Regardless, it’s a done deal. Santa Cruz voters will choose between the two redistricting models on June 7.

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