Under a move from at-large elections, San Mateo County Community College District officials are examining the merits of three potential maps segmenting the voting population into wards.
Two proposed maps subdivide the district into five regions which each trustee would represent, and a third expands the board by two trustees through proposing seven districts.
Officials held a public hearing on the issue Wednesday, April 26, designed to collect feedback on the proposals but board President Tom Mohr said the amount of community participation was underwhelming.
“I would have anticipated more interest because, I believe in my personal opinion that, the representation of the college district is very good along every line of concern such as equity, support and access,” he said.
The two five-district maps are largely similar, as four trustees would represent different communities spanning the county’s stretch of Highway 101, with wards built around major cities such as Redwood City, San Mateo, South San Francisco and west from the Peninsula thoroughfare to Daly City. The final district spans much of the coast from Pacifica, over to the Interstate 280 corridor and down to the county’s southern border. The only major difference between the two maps is the division of a central portion of the county around Foster City, San Mateo, San Carlos and Belmont.
The seven-district alignment carves out smaller wards around the Highway 101 corridor and builds new wards specific for Foster City and South San Francisco, while folding Millbrae and Burlingame into a northern coastal district spanning to Pacifica. A second coastal district reaches from Montara, east near Interstate 280 and through the southern stretch of the county.
Mohr said though he keeps an open mind to the merits of each alignment, he appreciates the effort preserving the board’s current composition of five trustees.
“I think it is more naturally viewed as five districts,” he said. “That is what people are accustomed to. The desirability of seven depends on what you think the impact would be.”
He added there could be a hurdle associated with rallying the public interest needed to fill an additional two seats on the board. But if a driving force behind the shift to district elections is ramping up representation, adding more districts would work toward such an end, he said.
“There is the argument that the larger the area, the broader the kinds of concerns that you bring to the dais,” he said.
Though no action was taken at the most recent action, Mohr said he anticipates the board will continue discussing the issue in upcoming meetings with the intention of moving to a by-district alignment in short order.
“It’s an action that many districts across the state have addressed, and for all the reasons they give, those are the reasons we are trying to be sensitive about,” he said.
Advocates for by-district elections claim the alignment is preferable as it enhances opportunities for residents from underrepresented communities to get elected. Trustee Karen Schwarz has said previously she believes a move away from at-large elections could make it cheaper for candidates, as they will no longer be faced to campaign across the entire county.
The Sequoia Union High School District recently adopted a similar change under the threat of a lawsuit from a civil justice organization claiming some residents of Redwood City and East Palo Alto felt their best interests were not being served by an all-white school board. The South San Francisco Unified School District has discussed the change for the same reason.
The community college district is not facing a similar legal threat, but officials have expressed interest in completing the transition as they move their election calendar from odd to even years, which was previously approved by the board.
Mohr said no definite timeline has been established by officials in their pursuit of the transition, but said he believes they should move as efficiently as possible.
“What we need to do is take action on this within a reasonable time frame and what the period of time will be hasn’t been defined yet,” he said.
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