A study session last night on the prospect of district elections ended without action by the City Council. Council Member Nat Bates moved to table the issue, and it passed on a 6-0-1 vote with the author, Vice-mayor Myrick abstaining.
The agenda item, had there been support, would have directed staff to devote further time to studying the options and making future presentations.
District elections have been advocated by some in Richmond for years. In 1991, a ballot measure that would require District elections failed. The proponents for District elections generally argue that they provide a method where otherwise unrepresented ethnic or racial minorities have a better chance to see one of their own elected and that they will have representation befitting their population.
Those who oppose district elections most often cite the potential for divisiveness, as districts fight among themselves for scarce resources instead of working for the city as a whole.
California courts have forced some cities to adopt district elections to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Typically, larger cities use district elections, and smaller cities do not, but that is changing.
None of the public speakers was in favor of pursuing District elections.
Council members appeared to share a perception that, unlike some cities considering or adopting district elections, Richmond does not have either the demographic isolation or the lack of representation on the City Council that have inspired some cities to move to district elections. In other words, for Richmond it may be a solution looking for a problem.
It is possible that some Council members who share potential districts with others see it as a move that might eliminate them.
Nat Bates pointed out, without naming his example, that if a particular district elected a representative who was held in low esteem by his or her peers, that district might suffer.
It was also pointed out that the transition could cost half a million dollars or more.
There are several ways that district elections could still happen in Richmond, including a successful legal challenge of at-large elections, a ballot initiative or legislative action at the state level.
Reposted from Mayor Butt's "E-Forum"