Threatened with legal action, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District is moving from an at-large election system to one divided into five trustee areas. Now the FHDA Board of Trustees is soliciting the public’s help in determining how the boundaries are drawn.
The effort involves dividing FHDA’s more than 400,000 residents into five trustee areas of roughly equal population size, based on 2020 Census data. Voters in each trustee area will elect a trustee living within that area to serve on the FHDA board. The district will begin the transition with the November 2022 election.
“Public participation in the ‘districting’ process will help identify communities with similar interests that would benefit from being kept together when trustee area boundaries are drawn,” FHDA officials said in a press release issued last week.
The move comes after the district in 2019 received a demand letter from an attorney representing district resident Sebastian Aguilar. The letter cited racially polarized voting within the district that violated Aguilar’s voting rights under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The nonprofit California Voting Rights Project supported the effort, which demanded the district switch election methods or be sued.
“Recognizing that the CVRA favors ‘by-district’ elections over ‘at-large’ elections and wanting to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation, the board agreed to make the change,” said the district’s Aug. 25 press release. “No other public agency was known to have successfully defended against a California Voting Rights Act challenge at that time.”
In their 2019 resolution calling for the new system, FHDA trustees disputed the allegation that their at-large elections are “racially polarized. … Those elections have consistently resulted in voters electing trustees of diverse races and ethnicities.”
Nonetheless, the board concluded it was in the public interest to avoid the expense of a lawsuit it was likely not going to win.
The district board makes policy decisions that affect local communities and the approximately 53,000 students who attend Foothill and De Anza colleges each year.
Residents can participate in the districting process through a series of public hearings beginning Sept. 13, by completing a Communities of Interest Survey and by commenting via email at email@example.com.
To take the survey and for more information on the new election system, visit fhda.edu/trustee-areas.