LAKE FOREST — City Council members voted to begin the process to split the city into five election districts by the end of the year, but at the same time indicated they wanted to keep their options open to fight the change.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night, Aug. 1 to approve a proposed timeline — complete with public hearings and workshops — to form the five districts. But they also decided to place measures on the next general municipal election in 2018 to give residents a say in how many districts they want and whether they want a directly elected or at-large mayor.
Councilman Andrew Hamilton, who voted in opposition, asked staff to reach out to the city of Huntington Beach to discuss options to avoid making the switch from at-large to district-based elections. Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes sent a letter to Lake Forest on April 10 saying the city faces a lawsuit because its at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act.
Huntington Beach received a similar letter, but officials are preparing to fight the claim that it is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Shenkman has yet to officially file suit against Huntington Beach.
“With respect to all the other issues that would be brought before us and that we could potentially consider tonight, such as an at-large mayor or number of districts, we’re not being sued over those and so I think those issues should definitely go to the voters,” said Councilman Dwight Robinson.
Hamilton called the state law a “travesty.”
“It specifically takes away the control of voters and that to me is the most important thing, he said. “I think (the voters) should decide whether we go to districts or not.”
The law firm alleged that Lake Forest’s at-large voting system “dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Lake Forest’s council elections.”
Placentia and Costa Mesa switched to district-based elections after voters approved the measures on the November 2016 ballot. San Juan Capistrano held its first district election in 2016. Anaheim, Fullerton and Garden Grove have also switched to district-based elections.
On May 2, in response to the letter from the law firm, the Lake Forest City Council voted 3-1-1 to start the process to switch to district elections rather than the at-large method the city has used since incorporation in 1991.
Residents who spoke at the meeting asked the council to…