WSCUHSD board chooses trustee voting area map for future board elections

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, December 29, 2021

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Photo Camille Escovedo

The course is all but set for the next decade of board elections now that the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) trustees have approved a map for the district’s transition to a by-trustee area election system.

The map will stay in effect until the 2030 census if the Sonoma County Committee on School District Organization approves, according to Jonathan Salt of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP.

Cooperative Strategies demographer Justin Rich presented four maps all divided into five voting zones, one for each seat on the board and roughly equal in population.

“These maps — they really only impact how potential candidates run for school board and who elects them and when,” Salt said.

As the current trustees complete their terms, those seats will gradually be filled by candidates elected only by the voters living in their same zone or “trustee area,” starting in 2022 with the county committee’s permission.

The board selected the “Scenario 1” map, sequencing elections so that trustee voting areas one, three and five would choose their representatives in 2022 and areas two and four would choose theirs in the 2024 elections. Lewis voted against the motion after stating she was “struggling to vote” and experiencing technical problems at the time.

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This week, trustees of the West Sonoma County Union High School District voted to proceed with the “Scenario 1” map for its soon-to-be-implemented by-trustee area election system.

This week, trustees of the West Sonoma County Union High School District voted to proceed with the “Scenario 1” map for its soon-to-be-implemented by-trustee area election system.

“Trustee Area 1 includes the elementary feeder districts of Fort Ross, Montgomery, Guerneville, Monte Rio and then portions of Harmony (Union School District) and Forestville,” Rich said, describing the northwestern part of the map in pink.

The second trustee area is south of the first, shown in blue on the map, “and this includes portions of the Harmony (Union) School District and Twin Hills and the western part of Sebastopol,” while Trustee Area 3, in yellow, includes Gravenstein Union High School District and some of the Twin Hills and Sebastopol Union districts, “the eastern side.”

Indicated in green, Trustee Area 4 covers “most of Forestville, Oak Grove and also a portion of Sebastopol as well,” Rich said. The zone is also where the district’s largest concentration of protected class voters live, according to citizen voting age population data.

Salt stated further that Hispanic and Latinx voters are the largest protected class — or voters who are part of a race or language minority group — in the district, comprising 11.6% of the population in Trustee Area 4 compared to the district-wide average of about 7.3%.

Each trustee area is required to have equal population numbers, varying by no more than 10% between the zones. The demographer said that variance for Scenario 1 is 3.7%, which is well within the 10% difference allowed.

Last, Trustee Area 5 is placed southwest of Trustee Area 4, shown in purple. Salt said Scenario 1 has more of a north to south division than Scenario 4, running more east to west. The fourth scenario attempts to meet earlier feedback that the way the district’s communities “break out” more reasonably runs from east to west, according to Rich.

Fourth scenario comes up short

Though not adopted as the by-trustee area map that the district board is going with, the map presented in Scenario 4 was discussed by the board as a possible option.

“You’ll see that Trustee Area 1 gives up that portion covered by the Monte Rio School District. It also extends further into Forestville in order to balance populations there,” Salt said about the areas presented in Scenario 4. Trustee Area 2 would cover Monte Rio, Harmony and some of Twin Hills while the third trustee area would contain “the southeast portion of Sebastopol, but then also Gravenstein and a portion of Twin Hills there,” said Rich.

He continued that Trustee Area 4 goes down into Forestville “and covers all of Oak Grove,” with Trustee Area 5 taking on more of the west side of Sebastopol, “follows the city boundaries, plus some of the outlying areas immediately outside.”

Salt estimated the population variance was 8.6%. “Anywhere between 0 and 9.9 is valid,” he clarified. “There’s nothing inherently better or worse — as long as it’s under 10, it’s valid.” Again, Trustee Area 4 would have almost the same concentration of protected class voters as in the first map, at 11.4%.

Final decisions

Fernandes moved to approve Scenario 1, explaining, “We’ve gotten some comments from folks. Number one was about the weird angles in Scenario 4 of Trustee Area 5, how that was kind of oddly drawn, and that it didn’t incorporate maybe enough north of the city.”

Additionally, Fernandes said community member Josh Nultemeier emailed that he didn’t like Scenario 4 because it divided Forestville in half and “felt that Monte Rio had more community of interest with that of Guerneville than that of farther south.” Still, not everyone loved Scenario 1, like attendee David Cary who voiced his disappointment that there weren’t better choices offered.

The board considered postponing the vote on maps since widespread power outages in west county may have prevented participation in the final public hearing that night. Salt informed the trustees that their window of protection against lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) expires around Christmas Day, however, and largely to avoid that risk, the board cast their votes that evening.

The district is switching to a by-trustee area election system overall because it’s the only safe harbor against potential lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) overall, meant to ensure members of protected classes are indeed able to influence the outcome of elections. A letter from district community members back in January 2021 catalyzed the transition because it was perceived as a legal threat too risky for the district to ignore.

Some community members spoke against making a final decision that night with many likely unable to attend due to the outages and considering the board’s record for fast decision making, often considered to be rushed by vocal members of the community.

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