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Guest opinion submitted by David Warren–
For several years, Scott Johnson, owner of Disabled Access Prevents Injury Inc., filed thousands of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) lawsuits across Northern California for what experts say is millions of dollars in settlements and attorney fees over purported failures to make ADA repairs on short notice. The ADA is not a weapon to be used to extort money as Johnson did.
As an individual who relies upon specially designated parking spaces due to pain caused by neuropathy, I know that “handicapped access” is important.
One year, Home Depot in Carmichael placed Christmas trees over ADA parking spaces. Unfortunately, it took numerous telephone calls and threats of filing a complaint to obtain Home Depot’s cooperation to make sure that handicapped parking spaces were not blocked by placing merchandise on them.
However, the most telling part of the experience was when the store manager asked me how much money I wanted to settle the ADA violation. He was shocked when I told him I wanted the parking spaces cleared and no money, but it would be great if Home Depot made a donation to a local veteran’s organization.
Citrus Heights is now facing a similar situation.
Last week, The Sentinel reported Kevin Shenkman, on behalf of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Inc., demanded that the method of electing City Council members be changed from an at-large system (the top two or three candidates that receive the most votes) to an election by district.
The purported well-meaning purpose of the change is to ensure that minority candidates have an equal opportunity to be elected. The demand letter fails to include the fact that there is an almost-guaranteed $30,000 payment to be paid to Shenkman’s law firm, even if Citrus Heights complies with his demand.
There is absolutely no doubt that every individual residing in Citrus Heights must have a voice in electing a council member. There is no dispute that until the last election, council members represented a very limited demographic of the Citrus Heights community: older, Caucasian, conservative and original participants in the city’s incorporation.
There is a need for a broader cross-section of our community — ethnically, racially, economically and politically — to seek and obtain council membership.
Shenkman’s solution to the problem is to divide the city into five districts to assure better representation of minorities in our community. The solution is based upon several false premises, which include the assumption that racial or ethnic minorities are congregated in a single section of Citrus Heights and that voters will not elect a non-white candidate to the City Council. Both conclusions are false.
In the last election, there were only five registered candidates and of the 45,484 registered voters, only approximately (16,000) one-third voted in the municipal elections. There is absolutely no evidence that racial, religious or ethnic impediments prevented nomination, campaigning or voting by any resident of the city.
The actual problem concerning the nomination and election of candidates, minority or otherwise is the money required to run for public office. Advertising, office space, and distribution of voting materials costs thousands of dollars. Very few citizen/candidates have deep enough pockets to fully fund an election campaign. Until there is campaign contribution reform, money — not voting districts — will be the ultimate determining factor for election results.
We deserve council members that are the best and most qualified, regardless of where they reside in the city and all voters should select the five council members, not just one, regardless of where each voter resides. The proof of the success of at-large voting is the election of Porsche Middleton, because voters from all parts of the city supported or opposed her candidacy.
If the city caves in to Shenkman’s demands, 80 percent of the city’s voters, i.e., individuals who do not live in a particular district, will be unable to vote for, or against, future candidates not living in the voters’ “district.”
As a resident, I want to be able to support or oppose each candidate for City Council (and I hope you do too), regardless of a candidate’s residence location, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference. That is real democracy.
Since the city lacks the money to oppose Shenkman’s demand to change from at-large voting to district-based voting, each resident should write to Mr. Shenkman at, 28905 Wight Road, Malibu, CA 90265, and ask as stridently as possible that he withdraw his demand. And unless Shenkman can produce evidence that a minority individual cannot be elected to the City Council, he should withdraw his demand.
Perhaps the City Council should also start a GoFundMe fundraiser so that the voters can put up or shut up to protect our rights as voters.
David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety. He can be reached at David@forpublicsafety.com.
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