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Community activist Jane Lea wants city council members elected by district

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Jane Lea

Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:18 am, Sat Dec 15, 2012.

For many years, community activist Jane Lea said she has felt that some Lodi City Council members have ignored the Eastside, not been responsive to concerns in the aging neighborhoods and often avoided that section of town.

"I find that disturbing that as a council member you do not drive around the town that you represent," she said.

At the Lodi City Council swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 5, Lea stood before the council and requested the city consider electing council members by district.

"The police department divides the city up into quadrants. Our Congress, Assembly and Senate representatives are divided up by districts. Why is it so crazy to do that in the city of Lodi?" she said.

Currently, people can live anywhere in Lodi and run for council. Lea said her plan would lead to greater representation for low-income residents, more diversity and might decrease the cost of elections.

She suggests the city be divided by population and socio-economic status, so districts have both rich and poor residents in them.

Lea wants the council to study the issue and put it on a future ballot.

"The council could be open-minded and put it out to vote at the next regularly scheduled election at minimal cost. ... If the citizens say no, they like it the way it is, then no harm, no foul," Lea said.

How money plays into the debate

Others have concerns about whether council members representing a district would push special projects over the city's best interests, and whether Lodi is large enough and has enough voters to support districts.

Councilman Phil Katzakian said he is open to finding out more information about the idea, perhaps during a study session, but he said, "at first blush, I don't see it getting any traction."

Having lived here his whole life, Katzakian said he feels Lodi is an open-minded town and there are opportunities for anyone to get elected who want to run.

"I see districts as a disadvantage. There's no reason in the city of Lodi a good candidate cannot get elected," he said. "If, for some reason, a particular group in a certain neighborhood didn't feel like they were being represented, then they can get behind a candidate, raise some money and get them elected."

But according to Lea, raising money is exactly part of the problem. She described it as "crazy" that candidates have to raise tens of thousands of dollars to be in the running.

"There are hundreds of people who are leaders in nonprofits, their churches or their neighborhood that will never have a chance to represent the rest of us or the community because they cannot come up with $20,000," she said.

Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce agrees with Lea that the expense of running a council campaign can prevent people from throwing their hat in the ring.

"(Lea's) right on the money that it costs too much for the average guy to get elected," Mounce said. "When it costs $30,000 to $50,000, that makes the average guy a little apprehensive to run."

The three-term councilwoman said she is still undecided about the idea. But she does feel the council needs to study the issue and any legal ramifications of the city's current system or a district system, especially because a citizen brought forward a concern that people are not feeling represented.

"If that's what Jane is hearing from the people of Lodi, I think it's up to the council to vet the issue out," she said.

Researching the issue

Councilman Larry Hansen said he also would like to study the idea of districts, and he is not going to make a decision without doing his homework first.

"At first blush, my biggest concern is that council members will start working against each other to advocate for their district. Instead of focusing on the central issues for Lodi, people would say, 'I want a park in my district,'" he said.

After hearing Lea's request, Mayor Alan Nakanishi did some research. He said there are multiple reasons he would oppose the idea of districts. One reason is because Lodi is small enough that council members should know what is happening on both the east and west side, Nakanishi said.

Districts could also limit choices because voters might want to support candidates in other areas that are not their own.

"What happens if you have a candidate like JoAnne Mounce in the Eastside of Lodi, but you live on the west side? Then you cannot vote for her," Nakanishi said.

Candidates could be hesitant to run because there are too many people vying for a seat in a certain district, he said.

"There could be five candidates on the Eastside and they are all qualified to run but they can't because of the districts," he said.

His final concern has to do with Lodi's voting population. Even though there are 26,000 voters in Lodi, Nakanishi said only 13,000 actually cast ballots for council. So if the city were divided into five districts, the mayor said candidates may only be answering to 2,000 voters.

He compared it to when he ran for state assembly and represented 400,000 people, which made him more accountable, he said.

"If all you have is 2,000 voters in each district, you can manipulate the system easily," Nakanishi said. "It's prone to fraud in an election because there are so few people."

Other agencies face district question

The concept of districts has come up in the past in Lodi, including an attempt in the early 2000s to get the idea on the ballot.

Recently, the San Joaquin Delta College Board of Trustees also dealt with the issue, Lodi representative Taj Khan said.

Currently, there are seven districts, but the entire Delta College area votes on each representative. The board discussed a system where people could only vote for their district representative, but voted down the idea this past spring.

Having to campaign for a seat is hard because candidates have to reach out to what he estimates are 500,000 voters, Khan said.

"It is difficult for a person to run if you are a candidate for Delta College because you have to campaign in the Lodi area all the way down to Tracy," he said.

The current popular vote system can also mean that people who are supported in their local district don't always get elected.

Lodi could be a different situation, Khan said, because it is significantly smaller than the Delta College board.

"Each political entity has to figure out what is right for their organization," Khan said. "Lodi might be a special case because it's small and compact. If you live on the Eastside, people know you on the west side."

But Lea said concerns are not being heard. She used the example of Rush Street, which is east of Washington Street near Lockeford Street. The road is in disrepair, Lea said, and council members should be addressing infrastructure there.

"If they are not driving those streets all the time and they are not in that neighborhood, what do they care? Why would I want people on the council who do not care?" Lea said.

Don Parsons, a political consultant who has worked for Lodi City Council candidates, including Phil Katzakian, said districts can cause problems because people tend to only focus on issues in their particular area.

For example, he said Stockton used to have nine districts and people only voted for the representative in their area.

"The council is under considerable political pressure because obviously all the council candidates want to get re-elected, so they had to get what they could for their area — sometimes at the expense of the rest of the city," Parsons said. "I think it's kind of a fractious strategy, and I don't think it's healthy for a community."

One other option is to have districts vote to select two candidates and then have a citywide vote to choose the final candidate.

That way, candidates would have to campaign throughout the entire city, Parsons said. But the drawback to that option is it increases the number of elections and therefore the city's costs, which he said is not attractive to voters.

"I don't think it's well considered. The city council members who are up there have done a good job," Parsons said. "JoAnne is a particular example of a candidate who has community support, so the idea that you can't get elected if you are an Eastside candidate is fallacious."

Lea understands there are people who say cities should only have districts if the population is more than 100,000, but she does not buy that reasoning.

"I'm just trying to make things fairer for everyone in the community. Just because that's the way it's always been done doesn't make it right," she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com.

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14 comments:

  • Josh Morgan posted at 9:29 am on Tue, Dec 18, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Where do you come up with these ideas? A fire station in a residential neighborhood when you have access to a commercial area. You've got to be kidding me! Ask the residents on Lower Sacramento Road how they like the fire station located next to them. These stations are located based on response times and are strategically located.

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 8:51 am on Tue, Dec 18, 2012.

    advocate Posts: 499

    So you'd rather still see 95% of the money spent on the westside on projects like widening Hutchins for a million bucks when many streets are in disrepair and neighborhoods without proper street lighting and alleys that still flood on the forgotten eastside of Lodi? This city council and management can't even get the much needed work done at the Grape Bowland private donations were garnered to put up a new fence at the ballpark at Lawrence park. Only the more reason for having council districts in Lodi and having three or four council members who are best friends and live in the same neighborhood. Just look at the projects since 1998 and they have been on the affluent part of town, with only Rancho San Miguel the only project of importance on the eastside. Another new brainstorm by these council members is to build a new fire station on Cherokee Lane. Guess who is going to be the lucky seller? No other than Mr. Geweke and the properties are two of his blighted run down car lots and chances are he'll get more cash than the blighted properties are worth, with a part time retired real estate appraiser being one of the council members.Why not build that fire station in one of the nearby neighborhoods with good access to 99 and major routes and get some property that is dirt cheap now?

     
  • Josh Morgan posted at 8:10 am on Mon, Dec 17, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    You may be on to something there Doug. Instead of five districts why don't we identify five ethnic groups and you can only run for Council if you qualify for one of those groups.

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 6:41 am on Mon, Dec 17, 2012.

    advocate Posts: 499

    The good old boys system isn't working as it is now. There is absolutely no communication between this type of council and the minorities who reside on the eastside of Lodi. Some of these are the same council aand management personnel that have built that invisible "berlin wall" between themselves and the eastside of Lodi, which still exists. I work closely with the Hispanic, Pakistani and other ethnic persons on the eastside and I can assure you that the good old boys system of money buying billboards and elections is not fair to this community, which comprises half of Lodi's population, yet has no minority to represent them. The citizen survey of 2007, which has been taken down or hidden from the records or internet sources, suggests that Lodi is a very bigoted town and that most residents polled said it will always be that way. The city of Lodi promised that there would be a survey each year similar to this one but you can see certain council good old boys have not fulfilled that promise. I've posted the link to that survey several times and many of you have seen the results. Lodi has to change the system to assure that all candidates are given an equal opportunity foor a council seat without having to raise tens of thousands of dollars to "buy" their seats.

     
  • Josh Morgan posted at 7:18 am on Sun, Dec 16, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Why in the world would you want to limit your choices based on a street address? I want to vote for the best five candidates based on their abilities, not addresses. If Joanne Mounce's next door neighbor is one of the best candidates running for office why shouldn't I be able to vote for both Joanne and her neighbor?

     
  • Tim Litton posted at 4:06 pm on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    Tim Litton Posts: 24

    I like the idea of having different 4 distrcits with the whole city voting for at least one candidate in each district. Then having a vote for a mayor who can be from any district. I wonder how many councilman we have now that live in the same area of town and would be considered the same district, so of course they wouldn't like the idea. they'd have to run against eachother or move. My only concern would be having qualified candidates from each district.

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 12:41 pm on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Mr. Morgan, where were you at at the city council candidates forum? The question was asked of each candidate concerning the "good old boys" agenda in Lodi and the answers were pretty conclusive that there is, indeed, a good old boys domination in Lodi, although all candidates had different views on what it means to them except for Ms. Mounce, who proudly proclaimed that the good old boys are an integral part of the Lodi area and are alive and well. Maybe you could get the transcripts from the News-Sentinel, moderators off this event. I believe it was the moderator who asked that particular question. Mr. Kuehne gave the best description of the good old boys.I was at that forum, by the way, and it was a pleasure to see Johnson's face turn beet red upon being asked certain questions. It reminded me of his description of one getting their "panties in a bunch" when often referring to Ms. Hitchcock or Mounce when they didn't agree with him during several council meetings that are on the city video archives. So why do you say there are no good old boys in Lodi, Mr. Morgan?

     
  • Jim Siemers posted at 12:30 pm on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    Jim Siemers Posts: 9

    The money that pays for City of Lodi expenses comes from the entire city. Splitting up the city into districts, could lead to the districts with the largest population determining where the money would be spent. Not necessarily where it comes from

     
  • Josh Morgan posted at 11:52 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Doug, your "good ol boys" comments are getting old and tired. When you actually have some good ideas your credibility is shot to hell when you include the same old comments. The water treatment plant had hearing after hearing in public. You may not have liked the project but it wasn't something done behind closed doors. The Reynolds Ranch project went through the proper public meetings and a zoning change was properly obtained. Again, you may not have liked the result but is was done properly. The Walmart issue was decided in a court of law and supported the City's position that Browman had provided the proper documentation. The only thing sinister about the Walmart project was the undisclosed opposition who refused to identify themselves. You need to put these issues behind you and move on. There are a lot more pressing issues out there that need our attention. And district voting is not going to solve them. If anything, district voting will be an obstacle.

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:54 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Councilmembers Hansen and Katzakian sound much like the Bobbsy twins with their "first blush" comments stating that they think districts would be at a disadvantage, causing council members to work against one another? They shouldn''t be working against one another unless it's another one of those controversial iissues or projects the last ten years or more, like the unnecessary and unneeded water treatment plant, redevelopment, the Reynolds Ranch project that was approved and when presented didn't appear to look like the project that was presented with many changes seemingly made to benefit the developers profit margin and the superWalmart in which the three councilmembers who regularly vote together, Hansen, Johnson and Katzakian, overruled their own planning department and let the project continue without finishing the required SEQA and other requirements, just to name a few. If these three same council representatives are so atypical in the method they use to represent the whole city why would they give one of their two favorite contractors' a million dollar project to widen a few blocks of Hutchins street while there are streets in disrepair and neighborhoods still without proper overhead street lighting on the eastside, not to mention the alleys that still flood every rain, while the eastside is gobbled up by many slum landlords charging outrageous rents knowing that they can can, and will rent to anyone willing to pay and many of those rentals are unfit to live in. It's time Lodi has districts like the police, fire, schools, etc. What is it that those against districts are afraid of? Those same olds raise tens of thousands of dollars, and many unaccounted for $99 contribution checks and know that they can buy their way in, like it seemed councilman Johnson did tthis year, and the good old boys fear a dreaded minority, or even two, would upset their house of card at the good ol, boys club.

     
  • Josh Morgan posted at 9:32 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Doug, district voting would be the worst thing to happen to the east side. Under the current rules you can hold five individuals responsible. Under districts you will only hold one responsible. Bad, bad idea.

    Dr. Nakanishi is right on with his comments and concerns.

     
  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:11 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Lodi should be divided into 5 council districts with each voter choosing one candidate from each district to finally break the racial barrier of never having a representaive of the large Hispanic and Pakistani, or any ethnicity, from the eastside to speak up for the real citizens there. And< Mr. Parsons, I think you are incorrect to say that JoAnne Mounce living on the eastside has anything to do with her getting elected. She was the people's choice for her never ending battle to represent ALL the citizens of Lodi, not just those wealthy, well connected, good old boys and her not being afraid of questioning those who make the controversial decisions with their three dominant votes and pass any issue they want. Johnson, Hansen and Katzakian are rumored to be some of the foundation of the good ol" boys and before them it was Johnson, Hansen and Beckman. All are firmly embedded in the realty, developer, builder, contractor qand business scenario in the Lodi area and their largee contributors are the same group of good old boys that garner seemingly special favors and get their projects pushed through first with the three dominant votes. It's time to tumble the dominoes in this good ol' boys system and put this issue on the ballot.

     
  • Josh Morgan posted at 9:06 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    With all due respect, I think it is a terrible idea. Council members should represent the entire community, not just their respective district. I want to hold five individuals responsible, not just one. District voting is good when you have to cover large areas. Lodi is only 5 square miles. I see this polarizing the community. I also don't like the idea of someone determining that they way to get good representation is to change the rules. District voting in Stockton has been a disaster and they cover a much larger area than Lodi.

     
  • Bruce Rubly posted at 8:51 am on Sat, Dec 15, 2012.

    brucerubly Posts: 3

    great idea, get a proposition on the next ballot

     

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