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The shift to by-district voting is still the talk of the towns in Vista and Oceanside, and this week the Oceanside City Council will make its first decision on the issue.

Vista and Oceanside are the latest cities in North County to be threatened with lawsuits over their at-large voting systems, in which council members are chosen by the whole city. One voting-rights group says these systems violate the rights of minority groups, by making minorities unable to affect the outcome of the election.

Last month, Vista begrudgingly moved forward with the process of changing to by-district voting, which involves four public hearings to discuss what the map of districts would look like.

Mayor Judy Ritter recently argued in the Union-Tribune that at-large is a “much stronger method of representation for Vista.”

“Think how problematic it would be if none of the council members have concerns about the needs for residents who are not in their district. Might they write off certain parts of the city?”

Ritter also wrote that by-district voting provides an interest for council members to appeal only to one group, which divides the community, and asserts that council members past and present have represented the interests of the community as a whole.

That’s been the gist of the discussion on the dais so far, but at Vista’s last public hearing, Councilman Joe Green – who supported the idea of districts during the 2016 campaign, but had some strong words about being forced to adopt the system – had an answer to Ritter’s concern.

“The fear of our council is that’s going to divide us. You’re going to have people only advocating for their districts, and I’d like to say, ‘Hey, it’s up to you, as the citizens, to make sure the people you elect in your districts realize we are Vista every day, as a whole.’”

Residents at council meetings have been split on moving to district elections, but those opposing it have also expressed that the change would be divisive for the city. Some have also written on community Facebook pages that Latinos need to turn out and vote more if they want their candidate to win. (The lawyer who threatened the city cited the example of Erubey Lopez – who won several Latino-dominant precincts, but lost the election – as an example of Latinos being unable to change the outcome of an election under the current system.)

Contrast that with Oceanside, where the general mood is that district voting would be a good thing.

Resident Donna McGinty told the Union-Tribune that it was less to do with racial discrimination and more to do with council members who ignore constituents.

A feeling I’ve heard expressed is that most of the attention and money goes toward the coast and downtown Oceanside, like the planned road diet on Coast Highway – for better or worse. South O has strongly opposed the road diet on Coast Highway, and people often say that the plans are been foisted on them by people who don’t live there.

The City Council will consider setting a workshop in May to begin the process of moving to districts. Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez have already expressed support for the change. Mayor Jim Wood, however, said he doesn’t.

In a newsletter, Lowery said pitting one district against another –  the argument Ritter used against district elections – was, “a myth,” and that the opposite was true.

Incumbency almost guarantees re-election for name recognition alone, Lowery told me in an email. He also said district elections are cheaper to run, which could attract new candidates.

“That being said, the council will continue to work for the betterment of the entire City. We can look to Escondido and Chula Vista as examples of how council members are elected in districts, but they still work for their entire cities, not just there (sic) particular district,” he wrote.

Neighboring Cities Split on Vacation Rentals

Two other neighboring cities also took different paths on a hot issue this week – this time for regulations on short-term rentals.

While the Del Mar City Council doubled down on its ban by finding that the existing city code prohibits short-term rentals in residential areas, Solana Beach struck a deal with Airbnb to make its effort to collect transient occupancy taxes more effective.

Under the agreement, Airbnb will take taxes directly from the rental transaction, and give that money to the city.

The current system relies on owners to take the taxes out themselves and pay the city, but the city has found that not all owners are doing that – or even registering their rental with the city.

In Del Mar, residents have focused on the behavior of the guests, and the city has repeatedly extended its ban while it tries to develop new rules.

The Planning Commission declined to take a position on new regulations, and residents have been split on whether short-term rentals are good for the city, according to the Union-Tribune.

Del Mar’s decision this week allows the rentals in commercial areas, but doesn’t say what will happen to existing rentals in residential areas.

Also in the News

• A lawsuit over a seawall in Encinitas is headed to the state Supreme Court. (The Coast News)

• The Orange County Board of Supervisors supports Rep. Darrell Issa’s proposed reforms for sober-living homes.

• Once thought to be a contender to become chief, an Oceanside Police Department captain was arrested by the Sheriff’s Department on misdemeanor domestic violence charges. (Union-Tribune)

• Democrats think they can take Issa’s seat. (NPR)

• Issa says he’s not as conservative as everyone thinks. (L.A. Times)

• The future of a prime spot in the Oceanside Harbor could be decided Wednesday night. (The Log)

• Apparently there a quite a few live-in caretakers at parks in North County, in what seems to be a sweet gig. (Union-Tribune)

Ruarri Serpa

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at ruarris@gmail.com and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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