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FPUD approves elections by territorial unit; To pay $120,000 settlement to MALDEF

The Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) will be electing its board members by territorial units in the future.

A 5-0 FPUD board vote March 7 approved a resolution to change the method of election from at large to by division while also creating a map for the five divisions. The first voting by division will be for the three seats up for election in 2016.

"That resolution and map have been forwarded to the Registrar of Voters," said FPUD general manager Brian Brady.

The FPUD board also discussed the proposed change to election by territorial unit at the district's regular board meeting Feb. 22 and during a special board meeting Feb. 29.

State Senator Joel Anderson has introduced enabling legislation to allow FPUD to elect its directors by territorial unit. Section 15972 of the California Public Utilities Code stipulates that if the entirety of a public utility district is in the same county, the board shall have five directors elected at large. A previous exemption gave public utility districts within Placer County the option of electing its directors at large or by wards. Anderson's Senate Bill 927 would allow public utility districts within San Diego County to elect board members at large or by subdistrict. FPUD is the only public utility district in San Diego County.

SB 927 has been referred to the State Senate's Committee on Governance and Finance. It has been introduced as urgency legislation, so it will require a two-thirds vote in both the State Senate and the State Assembly for passage but would take effect immediately rather than on Jan. 1 of the following year.

The rationale for the urgency legislation is that the change would bring public utility districts in San Diego County into compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. On June 24, 2015, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a suit against FPUD in the Vista branch of Superior Court alleging that FPUD's election system which utilizes at-large seats impairs Latino residents from selecting candidates of their choice. The suit sought to prevent FPUD from holding future at-large elections and to require FPUD to implement elections by districts.

The FPUD action March 7 also included a settlement with MALDEF. FPUD will pay MALDEF $120,000 for attorney's fees. "MALDEF has indicated to us and we've settled with them that their legal fees in pursuing the issue under the California Voting Rights Act have cost them $120,000, and we have agreed to reimburse them for that," Brady said.

Although MALDEF sued FPUD for following state law rather than suing the state, the FPUD board agreed to the settlement which will cost each resident within the district nearly $4. "MALDEF's position was that the California Voting Rights Act requirements took precedence over existing statute, which is what we're following," Brady said.

The 2010 Federal census indicated a total population of 32,468 residents within the Fallbrook Public Utility District, so the population target for each division was 6,493. Variances of up to 2.5 percent of the population target are usually accepted.

The seats of FPUD board members Don McDougal, Al Gebhart, and Bert Hayden are up for election in November 2016. One of the divisions includes McDougal's residence, and he is the only current director in that division. Gebhart and Hayden live in the same sub-district, so if both choose to run for re-election they would be running against each other as well as any other candidates who are seeking the seat. Both would be allowed to serve on the FPUD board until the expiration of their terms.

Division 3, which includes the Fallbrook Village area, has no current board member living within its boundaries. "It's an open seat currently and anyone within those boundaries can run," Brady said.

Milt Davies and Charley Wolk are not up for re-election until November 2018. Both are the only board members in their sub-districts.

The divisions utilize total population rather than the number of registered voters, but a recall petition against an FPUD board member would require the signatures of a percentage of registered voters. If a territory has between 10,000 and 50,000 registered voters, signatures of at least 20 percent of the registered voters are needed to trigger a recall election. Signatures of 25 percent of the voters are needed if the territory has between 1,000 and 10,000 registered voters.

The change in election format thus revises the recall requirement from 20 percent of the registered voters of the entire district to 25 percent of the registered voters in the division of the incumbent targeted for recall.


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