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By Allison Jarrell

The first of three community outreach meetings regarding the city’s switch to district elections is set for tonight, May 4, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, located at 25925 Camino Del Avion.

The meetings are aimed to inform residents and gather input regarding the city’s ongoing transition from at-large municipal elections to by-district elections, which will take effect during the next election on Nov. 8. Under the previous at-large system, voters could elect City Council members living anywhere in San Juan Capistrano. Beginning this November, voters separated into five districts within the city will vote for a City Council candidate who lives within their respective district.

The council voted unanimously April 19 to allocate $70,000 from the city’s general fund to pay for a demographer and community outreach services in order to begin the process of mapping out voting districts. In an effort to conduct a “transparent districting process,” city officials are encouraging residents to participate in the upcoming outreach meetings, which will be led by a districting consultant team.

Each community meeting will include an overview of the districting process and time to talk with consultants before providing input. The consulting team will then develop and build upon draft district maps that will be sent to the City Council for initial feedback. The maps will then be presented to the community in another outreach meeting and will ultimately go back before the City Council for final adjustments and approval.

According to city officials, once the district boundaries are adopted, the council will determine which two of the five districts will elect a City Council member on Nov. 8. The terms of Sam Allevato and John Perry end in December, and Perry has stated publicly that he has no intention of running for his seat.

The city’s switch to district elections—which was approved unanimously by the council in February—was prompted by a voting rights lawsuit filed against the city in January by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) and San Juan residents Tina Auclair and Louie Camacho. The suit claims San Juan’s at-large elections violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and resulted in “vote dilution for the Latino residents” by denying them “effective political participation in elections.”

Latinos account for about 39 percent of San Juan’s population, and according to city staff, no Latino representatives have been elected to the City Council for at least the last five election cycles.

Listed below are the dates, times and locations set for the upcoming community forums. Also listed are potential City Council public hearings on May 18 and June 6. The city’s final plan is due to the Orange County Registrar of Voters by July 6.

May 4: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Community Outreach Meeting, San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino Del Avion

May 7: Noon-2 p.m., Community Outreach Meeting, La Sala Auditorium, 31495 El Camino Real

May 18: 5 p.m.-7 p.m., City Council Public Hearing, City Hall, 32400 Paseo Adelanto

June 1: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Community Outreach Meeting, San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino Del Avion

June 6: 5 p.m., City Council Public Hearing, City Hall, 32400 Paseo Adelanto

For more information on the districting process, visit www.sanjuancapistrano.org and click “City Council Districting” on the right side of the screen. For updates during tonight’s meeting, follow The Capistrano Dispatch on Facebook and @CapoDispatch on Twitter.

Background on the issue of districting in San Juan, and the lawsuit that prompted it, can be found here.

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