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Group to Unveil Plan to Form Council Districts : Santa Monica: Backers ready initiative drive. Seven districts would replace at-large system. Proposal also limits council members to two terms.

December 03, 1989|JULIO MORAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A broad-based group is preparing to launch an initiative drive to have Santa Monica voters elect City Council members by district instead of at large, and to limit council members to two terms.

On Monday, the group, Citizens United to Reform Elections, will hold a public hearing on its proposal at 7:30 p.m. at the Will Rogers Elementary School auditorium, 2401 14th St. On Wednesday night, it will make a presentation to the League of Women Voters.

The group expects to notify the city clerk next week that it will begin collecting signatures for its measure to create seven council districts. The group hopes to get the measure placed on the November, 1990, municipal ballot so that it would go into effect before the November, 1992, City Council election.

However, the group hopes that the council will place the issue on the ballot without requiring the 5,600 signatures needed to qualify the initiative.

"This is clearly the trend," said attorney Paul C. DeSantis, a member of the group's executive committee. "Even if we didn't do anything, a case could be made that the current system is discriminatory and that districts are needed to remedy the situation. I think the worst case would be court-ordered districts. I think the best way is for the City Council to place the issue on the ballot."

Recent court decisions have ruled that in some cities with significant minority populations, at-large elections have kept minorities from being represented. In these cases, the courts have ordered a change to district elections.

In 1975, a ballot measure to create district elections in Santa Monica failed. Last year, Prop. J, a ballot measure that would have created numbered council seats to be voted on citywide, also failed.

Under Prop J, a candidate would have had to declare which seat he was running for. He would have been opposed only by other candidates running for the same seat, but all voters would have been able to vote for all the seats.

Citizens United to Reform Elections is made up of men and women from various political and ethnic groups. It formed last year to oppose Prop. J on grounds that the measure would protect incumbents and hinder minorities rather than help them get elected.

Group members noted that the proposed districts in 1975 were drawn at random and predicted that the current effort will be more successful because the districts will reflect historic neighborhoods.

The seven proposed districts are as follows:

District 1 is the Sunset Park area bordered by Pico Boulevard, 11th Street and the city's eastern and southern borders.

District 2 is the Pico neighborhood bordered by Pico Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard, Colorado Avenue and the city's eastern border.

District 3 is the area north of Wilshire Boulevard bordered by Wilshire, 6th Street, Montana Avenue and 21st Street.

District 4 is the Mid-Cities area bordered by Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Street, the city's eastern border and along Broadway, Santa Monica Boulevard and Colorado Avenue.

District 5 is the Ocean Park area bordered by 11th Street, the city's southern and western border, and along Bicknell Street and Pico Boulevard.

District 6 is the area north of Montana bordered by the city's northern and eastern border, 4th Street and along Montana Avenue, 21st Street and Wilshire Boulevard.

District 7 is the downtown area bordered by the city's western and northern perimeter, along 6th and 7th streets and Pico Boulevard and Bicknell Street.

"Our neighborhoods are pretty much intact," said Irene Zivi, a member of the group's executive committee and the city Commission on the Status of Women. "Also, most of the incumbents would not be thrown into the same district."

As part of its proposal, incumbent council members already serving two or more terms would be exempted from the two-term limit in the 1992 election, DeSantis said.

Rather than protecting incumbents, supporters of the proposal said, district elections would bring in new blood and better representation for areas that some feel have no voice on the City Council.

"This community is based on diversity," DeSantis said. "You do not have the same economic basis, the same ethnic background, the same aspirations. What districts allow is this diversity to have a voice. You have a healthier community when you get everybody at the table and talking together."

Antonio Vasquez of the Westside chapter of the Mexican American Political Assn. said district elections would allow the predominantly minority Pico neighborhood to elect someone to the City Council who would be accountable to neighborhood concerns.

Vasquez said the recent failure to bring a supermarket to the primarily Latino area indicates a lack of representation.

"If we had someone from the Pico neighborhood sitting on the City Council, we would have had a supermarket in the area by now," he said.

Herman Rosenstein, a member of the group's executive committee and the Santa Monica Democratic Club, said district elections are a "more democratic idea."

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