Merced Makes History Adopts New District Elections Map


A split Merced City Council picks the NDC map for both halves of the city
The odd-numbered districts will be up in November 2016

A map of city council districts chosen for future elections keeps the downtown business community together but has disappointed south Merced residents who worry it dilutes the strength of their neighborhood’s core.
The Merced City Council voted 6-1 late Monday to adopt a map which divides the city into six districts that each will have its own council representative. The city was pressured to replace its at-large election process with representative districts under threat of a lawsuit by Latino groups who alleged the current system was unfair. While Merced’s population is about half Latino, none of the six council members are Latino or live in predominantly Latino south Merced.
Isai Palma, who works with Building Healthy Communities in Merced, was one of the representatives who drew a map that got community support but not the support of the Merced City Council on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. By Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com
With the council chambers packed to capacity Monday night with many south Merced residents, the council rejected a map known as “Palma” that was proposed by representatives of Building Healthy Communities, Merced Organizing Project and Communities for a New California and instead approved a map designed by the Claremont-based National Demographics Corp., which based its districts on key neighborhoods and major roadways.
The approved map serves to keep the downtown business district united and forms two districts in south Merced, one that includes the Merced Municipal Airport and another that groups the residents living east of Highway 59 with those living east of Highway 99 and south of Highway 140.
Councilman Noah Lor cast the dissenting vote, saying he was swayed by the number of residents who spoke in favor of the Palma proposal.
Though Palma had the most outspoken support from south Merced residents during the meeting and throughout much of the process, the council picked the other map. That’s a fitting example of why districts are needed, said Matthew Barragan, an attorney from Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the group that threatened a lawsuit and pushed Merced to make the move to districts.

“I think that kind of disregard is what led to why we’re here in the first place,” he said.

During the public comment session of Monday’s meeting, resident after resident spoke in favor of the Palma map, which would have created a south Merced district running roughly between R Street and Tyler Road, which many described as the heart of their community. The council remained unconvinced, saying the map it chose will create two districts in south Merced, potentially giving the area even more representation.
“I think (NDC C) has a much better chance of achieving what the goal is,” Councilman Michael Belluomini said.
The vote was closer when it came to the northern districts, though few residents at the meeting spoke about those proposals. A map also designed by NDC C was chosen on a 4-3 vote. Lor again cast a “no” vote, this time accompanied by Belluomini and Councilman Mike Murphy.
All six members of council live north of Bear Creek.
The NDC map also benefited at the meeting from the support of representatives from the Downtown Neighborhood Association and the Merced Main Street Association, coalitions of homeowners and business owners, respectively.
Cindy Morse, a member of the neighborhood association, said she was pleased the council kept her neighborhood intact. She also said she believes the map will benefit south Merced more than the Palma map ever could.
Cindy Morse, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association
She agreed with Belluomini’s assessment. “I think our map actually helps (south Merced),” she said.

The Merced City Council chambers were packed on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, when the council picked a map that will be used for future local elections. The audience spilled over into the Sam Pipes Room. By Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Communities for a New California, a nonprofit that works to get residents involved in the community and local government, has been walking through south Merced monthly to get residents interested in the districts and other city workings. A large portion of the residents at Monday’s meeting were approached by the nonprofit.
Pablo Rodriguez, the nonprofit’s executive director, released a statement after the decision by the council. “Council members chose to turn a deaf ear to overwhelming, full-throated support for (the) Palma map by those in attendance (Monday),” the statement said.
He said the vote was a demonstration of the lack of representation residents of south Merced face when attempting to influence public policy. He said the upside of the vote is that Merced has made the move to districts.
The vote was closer when it came to the northern districts, though few residents at the meeting spoke about those proposals. A map also designed by NDC was chosen on a 4-3 vote. Lor again cast a “no” vote, this time accompanied by Belluomini and Councilman Kevin Blake.
All six members of the council live north of Bear Creek.
Under the district system, half of the council will be up for election every two years. The odd-numbered districts will elect representatives in November 2016. The even-numbered ones will be on the ballot in 2018.
Districts 1 and 3 are in south Merced, while 5 is in north Merced. Councilman Tony Dossetti, whose term ends in 2016 and is in District 5, made the motion.
The even-numbered districts will be represented by at-large members until 2018.
Murphy lives in District 6, which will not be up for election until 2018, so his term ends in 2016. He could run again in 2018 or run for mayor in 2016.
Murphy floated an idea to randomly pick districts, but the city attorney advised against that.
Murphy said he is OK with the outcome. “What I care about is not having this council put its thumb on the scales,” he said.
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