On March 5th, the City of Irvine received a letter from attorney Kevin I. Shenkman, charging Irvine with violating the California Voting Rights Act by continuing to elect members of the City Council through an “at-large” election process rather than “by-district.”
An at-large election system allows voters from across the City to elect all members of the City Council. District elections would divide Irvine into geographic districts, with voters in each district electing their own City Councilmember, who must also live in that district.
As cities grow, most decide on their own to switch to district elections since it’s viewed as a more equitable voting system to ensure that every part of town has its own elected representative.
District elections could be beneficial to residents in the northern part of the City who are not represented on the Council. Homeowners in that area are currently battling an asphalt company that is spewing toxic emissions. And Great Park Neighborhood homeowners — who pay the highest property taxes in the City — have had no say in what is built at the Great Park.
Moving to district elections could also help residents around UCI. Voters in that area (many of whom are attached to the university — the largest employer in the City) have historically not been represented on the Council.
District elections are seen as an opportunity for grassroots candidates to successfully run for office, without having to rely on funding from big corporations or land developers. (Councilmembers Mike Carroll and Anthony Kuo were both elected with heavy financial support from big developers.)
When Irvine’s Public Information Officer failed to respond to our request for the City’s official response, our staff reached out to Mr. Shenkman. His office provided us with the response letter from the City Attorney, stating that Irvine will not move to district elections, and that the City has hired a large legal firm in anticipation of an expensive court battle. When asked for comment, Shenkman said: “Some attorneys try to appear tough by being rude and hostile in their communications with others. That approach never benefits their clients. The Irvine City Councilmembers may soon learn that lesson.”
The only member of the Council to speak out publicly in support of the City transitioning to district elections is Larry Agran. When asked for comment, Agran stated: “While it is true that Irvine is one of the most diverse, thoroughly integrated communities in the nation — and not in violation of the California Voting Rights Act — I don’t understand why we wouldn’t move to district elections anyway. District elections have proven to be a better form of representation, and would allow us to expand the Council by two seats, ensuring that every part of the City is represented. Why wouldn’t we want that?”