District Elections

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Staff Report for the July 10, 2018 Public Hearing on District Elections

Video of the July 10, 2018 Public Hearing on District Elections


Vacaville Baseline Maps

Below are the baseline maps for the City of Vacaville created by our demographer. These maps will be the starting point for the discussions on districts in Vacaville. 

Vacaville Baseline Maps v2c_Page_1Vacaville Baseline Maps v2c_Page_2 Vacaville Baseline Maps v2c_Page_3

    Baseline Geography                         Census Geography                              Census Block Group            

Vacaville Baseline Maps v2c_Page_4 Vacaville Baseline Maps v2c_Page_5
    Race/Ethnic Dot-Density                    Precincts

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Below is a video of that item from the meeting. 



The Vacaville City Council will be considering whether to move from at-large elections to district elections in the City of Vacaville. This discussion has been prompted by a letter received on April 2, 2018 from Shenkman & Hughes, a law firm out of Malibu, California that has been suing cities, school districts and special districts, stating these agencies are not following the tenets of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  The letter was sent on behalf of their client, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. A copy of the letter is posted below.

The CVRA was signed into law in 2002. The law’s intent was to expand protections against vote dilution over those provided by the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The passage of the CVRA has made it easier for plaintiffs to prevail in lawsuits against public entities that elect their members to its governing body through “at-large” elections.  “At-large” elections are elections where each member of the governing body is elected by and represents voters the entire city, rather than specific “districts” within the city.  Generally, a plaintiff need only to prove the existence of “racially polarized voting” to establish a violation of the CVRA. Proof of intent on the part of voters or elected officials to discriminate against a protected class is not required.


As a result, many cities, school districts and special districts throughout the state have increasingly been facing legal challenges to their “at-large” election systems by Shenkman & Hughes. Almost all have settled claims out of court by agreeing to voluntarily change to district-based elections. Those that have fought CVRA challenges have ultimately adopted, or have been forced to adopt, district-based elections. The CVRA grants a prevailing plaintiff the right to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees. This has resulted in payment of huge amounts of money in attorneys’ fees by cities that have chosen to litigate the CVRA challenge. Recently, the City of Palmdale was ordered to pay $4.5 million in attorney’s fees following an unsuccessful challenge to the CVRA .

On September 28, 2016, the Governor signed AB 350 into law, codified as Elections Code Section 10010 (effective on January 1, 2017). The legislation attempts to provide a “safe harbor” from CVRA litigation for cities that choose to voluntarily transition to a district election system.

According to AB 350, if a city receives a demand letter, the city is given 45 days of protection from litigation to assess its situation. If within that 45 days a city adopts a resolution declaring the Council’s intent to transition from “at-large” to “district-based” elections, outlining specific steps to be undertaken to facilitate the transition, and estimating a time frame for action, then a potential plaintiff is prohibited from filing a CVRA action for an additional 90-day period.

Thus, the legislation provides time (a safe harbor) for the City to assess and implement a transition to a district-based election system before a lawsuit may be filed. The legislation sets forth a number of steps a city must take in the effort to assess and transition to a district-based election system, including five (5) public hearings. Under AB 350, a city’s liability is capped at $30,000 (adjusted annually) if it follows this process after receiving a CVRA notice letter,  the plaintiff shows financial documentation that these costs were actually incurred.

Should the Vacaville City Council choose to adopt a Resolution of Intent to establish district-based elections, it will have an opportunity to determine the number of districts to be formed, how their boundaries are defined, whether to have a directly elected Mayor, and the timing and sequence of district elections. By law, there is no ability to cut short or extend the terms of sitting councilmembers through this process. In other words, under our current 5-member legislative body composition, the City Council would choose between four districts/council members with a directly elected Mayor, or five districts/council members with each council member serving as mayor on a rotating basis. However, through the process of creating districts the Council could also change the number of City Council members to 6 or 8 with a directly-elected mayor or to 7 or 9 with no directly-elected Mayor.

As stated above, under AB 350, if a demand letter is received, the City has 45 days to respond. Assuming an affirmative vote to move to district elections, the City has another 90 days to complete the districting process. During that time, the City must hold two public hearings for input on district composition before maps are drawn; release draft maps at least seven days before the next public hearing, and hold two public hearings on maps; and then adopt an enacting ordinance. Once “by-district” elections are implemented, citizens would only be voting for one candidate to represent their district and possibly a mayoral candidate that represents the entire City.

 If the City Council decides to move forward with district elections, there will be significant staff time needed to transition to district-based elections and to administer the process including the need for five (5) public hearings. The City will also incur the costs for a demographer and special legal counsel. The City estimates implementation of these actions will cost approximately $100,000, in addition to staff time.  Additionally, the City may be required to reimburse the plaintiffs for their documented attorney’s and expert fees and costs up to a combined total of $30,000.

The City Council could choose to maintain at-large elections and defend a potential lawsuit, but the costs and attorneys’ fees could be substantial.


1965 – Federal Voting Rights Act is signed into law.

2002 – California Voters Rights Act is signed into law.

2016 – AB 350 signed into law by Gov. Brown.

April 2, 2018 – City receives letter from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes.

May 8, 2018 – City Council to consider district elections.

May 9 – September 2018 – Pending May 8, 2018 decision - undertake City Council districting process.

November 2020 – Pending approval by the City council, the first set of elections by district takes place in Vacaville.

2021 – Districts are redrawn due to new Census information.



Press release regarding first Public Hearing May 22 to discuss District Elections in Vacaville. 

Staff report from the May 8, 2018 City Council meeting declaring the intention to switch from at-large to district elections in the City of Vacaville.

Video of the May 8, 2018 District Elections item

Staff report from the May 22, 2018 City Council meeting - First Public Hearing on District Elections in Vacaville. 

Video of the May 22, 2018 Public Hearing on District Elections

Staff Report from the June 12, 2018 City Council meeting - Second Public Hearing on District Elections in Vacaville.

Video of the June 12, 2018 Pubic Hearing on District Elections 

Staff Report for the July 10, 2018 Public Hearing on District Elections - Third Public Hearing on District Elections in Vacaville

Video of the July 10, 2018 Public Hearing on District Elections