292015Oct

Opinion Editorial: The Path Forward In Merced

By SOL RIVAS
Published via Merced County Times

1f8ney.So.111
We have made history in Merced. Now, let’s make the future.
Merced residents took the first step toward a brighter future when we voted for Measure T and opened the door to diversity and inclusion. Measure T changes how we will elect our city council members. We will now have district elections ‒ six districts with six different council members.
This new way of doing things will create a more diverse City Council — diversity has never been an adjective used to describe the Merced City Council, by the way ‒ and diversity is good for our city. 
District elections will help ensure that we have a representative who lives in our neighborhoods and understands our needs. The strengths of single-member districts rest in the close ties between representatives and constituents, and a more clear accountability of representatives to the voters.
But these six new districts do not magically appear. There needed to be a map that details these new areas. Again, the residents of Merced expressed their opinion and advocated strongly and loudly for a plan that reflected how they wanted to be represented and by whom. 
Yet, despite many residents publically expressing overwhelming support for the Palma 1 plan — which was also endorsed by organizations like Building Healthy Communities-Merced, Communities for a New California, and the Merced Organizing Project ‒ the City Council approved a different plan.
If this doesn’t prove the point that more diversity and better representation is needed on the City Council, then nothing does, but this lack of diversity will change sooner, rather than later. 
Before we know it, every Merced neighborhood will have a voice at City Hall. 
In 2016, three new council seats will be up for a vote. Two of these, District One and District 3, are in South Merced. What will these voices say?
For starters, the voices are sure to be different, which brings new dimension, depth, understanding and insight. These new voices will give life to new ideas and policies that will help solve complex problems and address the various issues that challenge our city.  
There is tremendous power in voting and electing a representative who genuinely reflects a community or a neighborhood. When elections are conducted properly and ballots are counted correctly, voting is an equalizer. A vote from a rich person counts the same as a vote from a poor person. Age, race, gender, sexual preference … it doesn’t matter: one person, one vote. We all get to provide our opinion safely and fearlessly.
We are fortunate to live in a country where each of our voices can be heard, but we must always be vigilant to maintain this right. We need to do everything in our power to make sure our voices are heard each day, while we prepare for the next elections in Merced. We don’t need to wait for the polls to open to express our opinions and fight for our beliefs.
For example, the City of Merced should conduct a mid-year budget review to reevaluate our spending plan to find out what’s working and what isn’t. We shouldn’t wait until June to find out if an investment is failing. This isn’t a new concept. Dozens of cities across California look at mid-year spending, including Fresno, Los Banos and Atwater. 
Meanwhile, one of the city’s most important positions will soon be vacant. City Manager John Bramble is retiring, and the City Council has stated it wants to look “outside” for a replacement, but I encourage the council to listen to “insiders” in transparent discussions — residents, civic leaders, community groups, etc .— before they hire anyone. 
Merced, we made history by changing the way we vote for our representatives. The future demands that we make this history count.
Sol Rivas works in early education for the Merced County Office of Education.