The Richmond City Council night will conduct the first public hearing Tuesday in their move from at-large elections to a district-based model as part of an effort to avoid costly civil rights litigation.

The city received a letter from Walnut Creek-based attorney Scott Rafferty threatening to sue under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, arguing that at-large elections deny the city’s Hispanic voters of an equal opportunity to elect their own candidates and dilutes the electoral influence of the black and Asian community.

However, as one of the Bay Area’s most diverse city councils, all six members of the current council are people of color. During an Oct. 22 meeting Councilman Nat Bates, who is black, remarked that white people are the only demographic underrepresented on the dais.

Councilman Jael Myrick said:

“If the purpose of district elections is diversity, this is not the way to do it in Richmond.” 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Richmond, Calif. City Council will discuss district boundaries and future district elections Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

Other cities have fought back against Rafferty’s lawsuit, according to the office of Richmond’s city attorney, but none of them have won – and some have incurred millions of dollars in legal expenses in the process, including financial liability for Rafferty’s attorney’s fees.

As a result of this transition, half the council will be forced to step down in 2020, with the other half following in 2021. They will only be able to run for reelection if they live in a district with an open seat.

Members of the public are invited to voice their opinions on how the boundaries of the city’s new districts should be decided as city staff identify criteria such as school attendance, parks, landmarks, shared demographic characteristics and natural dividing lines like major roads or hills.

The open session meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at 440 Civic Center Plaza.

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