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Sunnyvale Moves Slowly But Surely to By-District Council Elections

At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Sunnyvale City Council narrowed the potential Council election district maps under consideration from eight to four. The main differences are the configuration of the districts to the north of El Camino, and whether there will be two or three districts north of the railroad tracks.

Last year, Sunnyvale moved to change its Council elections to by-district from its current by-seat at-large system. In June, the Council approved a ballot initiative proposing six single-member Council districts and a directly elected mayor. Currently, Sunnyvale’s Council elects the mayor.

On Oct. 8 there was extensive discussion about the definition of “communities of interest,” and whether school district boundaries, mobile home parks and houses of worship should be deciding factors.


While some say mobile home parks should be included in a single district to give these residents a stronger voice in land use decisions affecting them — as skyrocketing land values make conversion of mobile home parks to other development attractive for landowners — Council Members Michael Goldman and Glenn Hendricks questioned whether what kind of home you live should be a deciding factor.

“There are things [to consider] besides whether you live in a mobile home park,” said Goldman. He suggested that school district boundaries could be equally compelling communities of interest, but also noted that cities have no control over school districts.

Civil rights law mandates that election districts be contiguous, respect communities of interest, are easily identifiable and understandable and reasonably compact, explained the City’s attorney Marguerite Leoni, a noted national expert on voting rights law and litigation.

Communities of interest are connected to “social interest and economic interest, with qualifications that they benefit from representation in a district,” she said. “So this brings up issues such as who identifies the community of interest. What are the resources…how we determine the benefits from representation.”

Referring to Goldman’s suggestion about school district boundaries, she said, “It’s indisputable that people unite around the [school] districts. But the qualification next year is whether that unity will benefit from representation in Council.”

The law is a “strong incentive for the Council to consider the ethnicity of the residents rather than the fact that they live in mobile home parks,” said Leoni.

After the Council selected the map finalists, they turned their attention to the question of sequencing elections. Because of the late hour (11:30 p.m.) the Council agreed to put this item on the agenda again for the Oct. 29 meeting. This did not, however, avert another hour of discussion on various sequencing approaches.

Discussions of the election and districting have brought benefits to the City. “Since we started the outreach process I’ve learned more about the City of Sunnyvale that I learned in the last 49 years,” said resident Cal Cornwell. “This is beneficial and we will have a better city.”


Directly Elected Mayor Proposal Continues to be Elephant in the Room

Several residents spoke at the Oct. 8 meeting for and against the directly elected mayor proposal, despite that subject not being on the agenda.

“You are pushing forward without [a recommendation from] a charter review committee, and you are taking a path that is not listening to the residents and you are not listening to the voters, the potential voters for March,” said resident Steve Scandalis, one of the founders of No Directly Elected Sunnyvale Mayor.

A discussion earlier at the meeting about the mayor’s term — currently it’s two years — and how to handle vacancies in the mayor’s office with a directly elected mayor, he said, raised complications that were “providing lots of opportunity to vote no.”


Upcoming Meetings

  • Oct. 24, 2019 9 a.m. Sunnyvale Pop-up Event. Last chance to look at Sunnyvale City Council District Maps in person and provide input.
  • Oct. 29, 2019 6 p.m. Special Council meeting and study session on election district boundaries and sequencing principles.
  • Nov. 5, 2019 6 p.m. Special Council meeting and study session on district elections sequencing and maps, and the charter amendment for the March 2020 ballot.
  • Nov. 12, 2019, 7 p.m. Council meeting: Final district maps will be chosen and proposed ballot language will be discussed.

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