By Allison Jarrell
San Juan Capistrano’s first by-district election has come to a close. Residents in Districts 1 and 5 made history Tuesday night as they elected two new City Council members to serve four-year terms on the dais.
The city’s switch to district electionswas prompted by a voting rights lawsuit filed against the city in January. The suit claimed that San Juan’s at-large elections violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and resulted in vote dilution of Latino residents. Rather than fight the lawsuit, the Council chose to switch to district elections and the city hired a demographer. Following a series of public workshops and Council hearings, the demographer used Census data and community input to draw a map of five voting districts, which the Council approved in June.
District 1was selected as one of the two districts voting this year due to a stipulated agreement with the plaintiffs of the Voting Rights Act lawsuit, which dictated the first district chosen be the area with the highest percentage of Latino voters. The Council voted 3-2 to select the southeastern District 5 as the second district to elect a City Council member this year.
In the city’s northwestern District 1, small business owner Sergio Farias won the Council race with 608 votes, or about 58 percent of the vote. His challenger, Nathan Banda, received 435 votes, about 42 percent of the vote. In District 1, 2,319 residents were registered to vote.
Farias, a lifelong resident of San Juan, said he ran a grassroots campaign and knocked on every door of the district.
“I ran into several people who had never had a candidate knock on their door before,” Farias said. “We got people involved who had never been involved before, and that’s one of the things I had set out to do.”
He said his current priorities are to resolve parking issues in the district and stop the SDG&E substation expansion in town. Farias is a 27-year resident of Las Brisas, the neighborhood which surrounds the substation site.
In District 5, financial services executive Brian Maryott won the race with 1,502 votes, or about 58 percent. Mission San Juan Capistrano executive director Mechelle Lawrence Adams came in second with 870 votes (25.6 percent) and Larry Kramer, retired submarine captain and former mayor, came in third with 549 votes (16.2 percent). Media executive Ronda Mottl earned 324 votes (9.6 percent), professional geologist and professor Jim Schneider received 118 votes (3.5 percent) and Robert Parks, who dropped out of the race, took 29 votes (0.9 percent).
Maryott said he’s ready to get to work with city staff and the other Council members on balancing the city’s budget, resolving issues with water and continuing to address an issue that he said “became more paramount as a growing concern throughout the campaign”—sober living and drug treatment homes.
“This is an issue that doesn’t have a quick, easy fix,” Maryott said. “I think the best long-term solution is going to be a particularly hard battle, because I don’t think that they belong in our neighborhoods. I don’t think it’s appropriate to run businesses in our neighborhoods.”
Farias and Maryott will fill the seats of outgoing City Councilmen Sam Allevato and John Perry. Allevato was unable to run for his seat, as he lives in District 2. Perry lives in District 5 but chose not to run. Farias and Maryott will be sworn in on Dec. 12.
Residents in Districts 2, 3 and 4 will vote for candidates in the 2018 City Council race.
In San Juan Capistrano, 19,229 residents were registered to vote:
District 1: 2,319 of 7,130 residents*
District 2: 4,661 of 7,239 residents
District 3: 4,431 of 6,722 residents
District 4: 2,106 of 6,642 residents
District 5: 5,712 of 6,860 residents
*total population, not residents of voting age