The Visalia City Council Monday night approved signing a contract with National Demographics Corporation (NDC) to prepare several boundary options for the coming district elections in 2016. The company would be using 2010 census data and draft three options from which the council and public can choose. The NDC will also provide “Public Participation Kits” with all the necessary instructions to give Visalians the tools to propose their own districts. The National Demographics Corporation will be conducting three to five sessions in Visalia that will include an initial information gathering session, a presentation of the draft plans, and at least one community forum. A draft of the district boundary maps should be ready for presentation by fall.
Last winter, the Tulare County court ordered the City of Visalia to conduct its city council elections by district. To comply with this court order, the city must adopt boundaries that divide Visalia into five districts. The districts must comply with state and federal election laws, and detailed demographic data is needed to develop appropriate district boundaries. The city does not have these skills in house, therefore, city staff recommended hiring an experienced demographer to perform the needed technical tasks to establish election districts.
Doug Johnson, principal with NDC, previously worked with the city in 2012 when the Blue Ribbon Task Force was discussing district elections. At the time, staff found his technical work to be very sound, and his presentations of technical information to be very professional and delivered in a manner that made it relatively easy to understand the data. In addition, NDC has a unique understanding of the Tulare County area because the firm worked with the Visalia Unified School District, and the Tulare District Hospital, when those agencies developed their district boundaries.
Council Member Amy Shuklian inquired about the time line. Leslie Caviglia, assistant city manager, said that the boundary maps could be done within eight to 12 weeks if it needed to be done quickly, but that the staff felt it was important for the community to have ample time to consider and discuss the boundary options. The council also needs to have adequate time to approve a final districting plan and educate the community on the final boundaries. Since the first actual election is not until 2016, the staff felt that if the council adopts the final boundaries by June, 2015, it will give the public a full year prior to the start of the 2016 city council election cycle to understand the districts.
The National Demographics Corporation will work with the Tulare County Elections Office to implement the final district election boundary lines approved by the city council. Up to $48,000 will be appropriated from the General Fund for this contract.
The final vote to approve the contract was three to two with Shuklian and Mayor Steve Nelsen voting no because they are against district elections.