San Luis Obispo against shift to district voting

December 6, 2019


San Luis Obispo has become the latest local city to receive a legal threat that may require it to switch to a by-district voting system for electing council members.

On Nov. 13, SLO received a letter threatening a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act if it does not switch from an at-large electoral system to by-district voting. City officials want to negotiate the city’s way out of making the shift.

Statewide, dozens of cities have received similar demand letters. Locally, Paso Robles, Grover Beach and Santa Maria have responded to the legal threats by opting to shift to by-district voting. Arroyo Grande also initiated the process.

Lawyers have argued that cities have racially polarized voting, a pattern in which different racial groups support opposing candidates. Attorneys’ argue cities must shift to by-district voting to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

By law, cities have a 45-day period in which they can weigh different options and respond to the demand letter without being sued. On Thursday, SLO announced it negotiated an extension of the 45-day period from Jan. 1, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2020.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick responded to the demand letter by stating SLO intends to analyze the factual basis of the claim and pursue talks about alternative paths to resolution that could achieve even greater diversity and inclusion in city elections than by-district voting.

Dietrick also said the demand letter overstated minority influence in local elections, undermining the potential plaintiff’s conclusions, the city press release states.

Kevin Rice

The Council is scared because they all live in the same privileged district. Half of them couldn’t be there if this passed.


Well, let’s see. There are the retired wealthy, the silicon valley telecommuters, employees of all branches of government, the 1990’s equity refugees from SoCal, trust fund 30 & 40 somethings, union members, those on the government dole living in HASLO housing, and Cal Poly students who don’t really live here and aren’t worried about the consequences of their vote. All of these groups are in lockstep with our current city government. So whos left? Maybe 1,000 or 2,500 middle-income people who are barely eeking out an existence here? I doubt highly that they want anyone to know they even exist. Asking for San Luis Obispo to give the middle-class fair representation in government, would be like Anne Frank’s family showing up at a Nazi rally demanding “to be heard.” So yeah, this district stuff is a stupid waste of time constructed by a lawyer who himself has devised a clever way to earn enough money to stay in this state.


Glad to see down in the comments that people are taking notice of gerrymandering. It’s a real problem, here and nationally both Dems and Rep.


In an effort to combat the political machines that controlled the wards in big cities like Chicago, Boston, St. Louis and elsewhere, reformers about a century ago promoted the idea of doing away with such boundaries to give everyone a chance to vote on everyone on the city council. These reformers also promoted the idea of professional staff, independent of patronage, in an effort forge better long term policy decisions.

We can see now, years later, that this system has not worked the way it was intended: very highly-paid staff control the flow of information and are next to impossible to fire; candidates run as a slate; special committees are established in a thinly-veiled effort to pander to council members’ special interest backers; and no one is looking out for the long term interests of city residents.

More than a change in the election process, we need true leadership committed to putting residents first, but I’m not holding my breath.


Let the Gerrymandering begin!!!


Typical City of San Luis Obispo response. Dietrich will hire outside counsel for thousands and end up getting another raise over this.


Correction; many tens or hundreds of thousands.


Come on, SLO – just be like Paso Robles and capitulate. You have to know that Shenkman is making big money by this extortion and he has the power and backing to make it stick.


No surprise, the council does not want to lose their voting power block from Cal Poly by having them put into just one district.


“Shenkman states in the letter that Latinos comprise 34.5 percent of the city of Paso Robles”,_California—2010-PDF

I could not find a listing of registered voters. Does anyone have any suggestions?

George Garrigues

Registered voters have nothing to do with total population, which includes kids & folks who just haven’t registered.


why on earth would you even believe this information would and should be available to the public, unless you worked for a govt agency?


I believe it is available from the County Clerk’s office, but there is a fee for it.


In order to increase minority voting in a city, that city first has to have minorities.


What is a minority Dave? Skin is not the only criteria.

Cal Poly student’s could be considered a minority that would fall under this plan. They make up a decent percentage of voters in the city, with most being concentrated in a certain “district”, but rarely if ever do they obtain a seat on the City council.

As a group; they are under represented on the council.

Demographically speaking there are parts of town that are different from others. Contrary to popular belief not all SLO residents are well off. People in districts that are older – from an infrastructure perspective–have different needs that those who reside in new developments. Each should have a say in how things are run.

District based voting would help ensure each part of town has someone advocating for their needs. Whether that be speed bumps for the affluent on Broad St. or increased patrols for parts of town with higher crime rates.

District based representation helps us all, not just “minorities”.

George Garrigues

Interesting truism. Fairly meaningless, though, I am sorry to say.