Districting Committee seeks more public input

Maria Vega, 28, a member of the Independent Districting Advisory Committee, speaks during a news conference in front of Tenaya Middle School in Merced on Thursday. The group is looking for more participation from Merced residents. | Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Members of the committee to draw up districts for local elections in Merced held a news conference at Tenaya Middle School on Thursday to update residents on their progress and to ask for more public participation.
Merced’s Independent Districting Advisory Committee has met twice this year and plans several more meetings. The committee has reached the phase at which it will ramp up its public outreach effort, according to members.
“In terms of challenges, I think a lot of it’s going to be outreaching,” said Miguel Lopez, 27, the vice chairman of the committee. “It’s going to take going out to the public and hearing their feedback.”
Lopez said the first two meetings were mostly learning sessions for the members. He said feedback from the public has been positive, but the committee needs to hear from many more residents.
The committee has made Public Participation Kits available at the meetings in Spanish, English and Hmong for residents interested in drawing district lines of their own to propose to the community. Officials said those kits also will be available on the city’s website.
The members of the committee said they are each using their unique connections, whether that be a club membership or where they live in town, to try to reach their social circles.
Under the new district voting system, the mayor will continue to be elected by voters citywide, but the six council seats will be picked by districts.
Councilman Josh Pedrozo, who was also at the news conference, noted that voters recently approved a measure to align local elections with gubernatorial elections, an effort to get more people to cast ballots. He said drawing new districts has a similar goal.
“The hope is this will increase voter turnout,” he said.
Advocates for district elections have argued that the change should give better representation to south Merced, an area of town some consider neglected. All six sitting council members in Merced live north of Bear Creek.
Mike Conway, the city’s spokesman, said city leaders expect the participation in the meetings to grow, particularly after some of the early drafts of maps are drawn.
Another committee member, Maria Vega, 28, said the meetings are still in the early stages, but she hopes people will take the initiative to get involved. “We want their input,” she said. We’re actually here to listen to them.”
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