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Paso starts by-district election discussion 

A legal challenge prompted the city of Paso Robles to conduct its first hearing about plans to transition the city to a district-based election process.

During public comment at the Nov. 20 hearing, Paso resident Chip Tamagni said that he was concerned that separating the city into districts would make the future City Council inaccessible.

"I've emailed you guys at different times with different issues, whatever it may be, and I fear that maybe I'll only be able to talk to just John, if he's my representative," Tamagni said.

Paso City Council members are currently voted for in citywide elections. Moving to a district-based system would divide the city into districts, each with one representative who resides in the district and is elected only by the voters residing in that district. In this system, voters within each district may only vote for one candidate every four years.

The city received a letter in August from the Kevin Shenkman and Hughes law firm alleging that the city's at-large electoral system violates the California Voting Rights Act. The lawyer threatened to sue if the city chooses not to adopt a by-district system. In September, the City Council approved a resolution expressing the city's intention to make the change and designate $60,000 for costs.

Paso Robles is among 100 other cities across the state that are making similar changes to how city council members are elected.

A transition would include splitting the city into districts with equal populations. The boundaries of council districts can be drawn based on logical divisions within the city such as major roads, rivers, creeks, neighborhood boundaries, or school attendance areas.

Although this process is in its beginning stages, the council expressed interest in maintaining its current citywide mayor and creating four districts, including at least two districts downtown, and working to maintain connectivity between Paso's east and west sides.

At the meeting, Councilmember Fred Strong said that the district didn't have a financial choice but to change its election process, and he urged community members to give their input on creating district boundaries.

"During these hearings it's important that the community come, and if there's no public input then we have no basis on where to draw the maps that nobody is going to agree with," Strong said.

The city will hold another public hearing on Dec. 18 and two community meetings for community input. The first is slated for Dec. 5. Δ

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