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File #: 18-0776   
Type: Report to Council Status: Passed
Meeting Body: City Council
On agenda: 9/5/2018
Title: Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections
Attachments: 1. California Voting Rights Act, 2. Kaku v. City of Santa Clara, Statement of Decision, June 6, 2018, 3. Kaku v. City of Santa Clara, Amended Statement of Decision, July 24, 2018
REPORT TO COUNCIL

SUBJECT
Title
Direction Regarding Public Outreach and Submitting a Charter Amendment to Voters Regarding Changing At-large with Numbered Seats to District-Based Elections

Report
REPORT IN BRIEF
Cities throughout the state have increasingly been facing legal challenges to "at-large" systems of electing city councilmembers. The California Voting Rights Act ("CVRA") was adopted to address vote dilution caused by at-large election systems in the presence of racially polarized voting. Almost all cities challenged under the CVRA have settled claims out of court by voluntarily shifting to district-based elections. In the Bay Area, cities including, among others, Fremont, Menlo Park, and Morgan Hill, have recently switched to district-based elections.

This issue made headlines in our neighboring city of Santa Clara over the last several months. Santa Clara, which has a charter provision with an at-large, numbered-seat system nearly identical to Sunnyvale's system, was sued by the South Asian Law Alliance claiming that the system violated the CVRA by diluting the vote of Asian voters. Santa Clara chose to litigate the issue and the case went to trial in April 2018. The Santa Clara County superior court judge agreed with plaintiffs, holding that Santa Clara's system violated the CVRA. The second phase of the trial to determine remedies was held in July 2018, and the court ordered Santa Clara to shift to district-based elections (six districts and a separately-elected mayor)1 beginning in November 2018.

Although most cities that have changed their electoral systems have done so under the threat of CVRA litigation, staff is bringing this issue forward and recommending that the Council make the voluntary choice to submit the issue to Sunnyvale voters as a charter amendment to comply with the CVRA's disfavor of at-large electoral systems and eliminate the City's exposure to litigation. The fact that Santa Clara's substantially similar system was recentl...

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