Taft City School District held its fourth public hearing regarding districting the areas. Advocates are pushing for two specific maps to be the top choices for the board to pick.
Lori Pesante, with the Equitable Maps Coalition with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, explained that many boards were encouraged to switch to districts after the California Voting Rights Act passed in 2001.
This act was meant to ensure a protected class was able to vote in a meaningful way versus having no say in an at-large election. According to the bill, an at-large election can prevent communities from voting for a candidate of their choice.
“The board or council they would have their five members or seven,” said Pesnate. “They could live wherever they wanted within that city or that school district, and they could run for one of the seats. It didn’t matter which one because they could live anywhere in the district it didn’t matter, and if they got enough votes, they would get a seat, and they would technically represent together the entirety of the district.”
In a district-based election, communities would be kept whole and have a fair chance at voting for someone who accurately represents the community. The equitable maps coalition believes that the best chance of this happening in the Taft City School districts is if they go with the maps Plum or Cherry. During Pesante’s public comment, board member Les Clark asked what it means to keep a community whole.
“When you split a community that traditionally has not had a great deal of representation, you minimize even further that community’s ability to elect a representative that represents their interests,” said Pesante.
She used Ford City as an example, which is where a majority of the Indigenous, Latino, and Oaxacan community is. Now, with districts, if Ford City is kept in one district, those in that community will be able to stay whole and be able to elect someone from their community. Pesante presented a breakdown of the maps showing that Cherry would keep Ford City and South Taft whole and Plum would keep them mostly whole.
“We’re not going to see wholesale changes across the board. That’s highly unlikely. But it does mean as the community continues to grow, that particular district, district five, is very likely to be where folks are going to have an opportunity to have a representative on the board,” said Pesante.
Board member, Keith McElmurry mentioned that at the previous board meeting, he asked Pesante how much the districting process would cost them. While Pesante did not have an exact price, she stated that it would be cheaper than the repercussions of not doing so.
“Not compared to being not in compliance and having to go through a litigation process,” said Pesante.
“You mean instead of us being sued by you for not doing what you want,” said McElmurry
Pesante stated that about 20 years ago, when the California Voting Rights Act passed and the Superintendent of Schools spoke to everyone, most chose to switch to the district.
“Folks who chose to go they were strongly advised against that. So, here we are, we’ve been living rent-free here for over 20 years,” said Pesante.
Due to her not having an exact number of how much it costs to change the lines, McElmurry accused her of avoiding the question.
Jesus Garcia with the Equitable Maps Coalition spoke at the board meeting. He started his comment by quoting the Declaration of Independence and talking about how women and people of color had to fight for the right to vote.
“Change is here in town. We are in a democracy, in a country that allows for change, that allows for evolution, that allows for growth,” said Garcia.
Garcia spoke in support of Plum, acknowledging that they could see the community’s concerns taken into consideration in the drawing of that map. He agreed that while it does cost to make the change, it is worth meeting the community’s needs and the founding father’s wishes for the country.
“You represent democracy for this community, so we’re hoping, our goal is that you represent the best of us. Stick with the words of Thomas Jefferson and form a more formal union,” said Garcia.
Pesante told Kern Sol if they did not comply with districting, they can be sued. According to the resolution from the August 9 board meeting in June of 2023, the district received a letter from Scott J. Rafferty, Attorney at Law, on behalf of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, stating that they were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
The resolution states that they chose to move forward with the changes to avoid the litigation costs, and the change will not affect the current terms of those sitting on the board.
According to Pesante, multiple jurisdictions in Taft received letters like this and are in the process of either switching to districts or risking being sued. The community college, health care, and high school districts in Taft are all in the districting process. According to Pesante, the City of Taft as of now has decided not to switch.
“Ultimately, the choice is between going to districts, complying with the law voluntarily, or choosing not to and running the risk that you’ll be sued, and then that’s going to be a very expensive process to go through. The law is designed to encourage people to do the right thing and follow the Voting Rights Act,” said Pesante.
Pesante wants community members to know that this districting process affects almost every part of their lives.
“Every time you send your kid to school, every time you go to the park in your area, every time you need help from a doctor or a nurse, you are engaging with districting and redistricting whether you know it or not,” said Pesante. “The ability to get the help you need for your kid, the ability to have the trash picked up at your park, the ability to get help from a doctor when you need it is entirely a function of whether or not your needs are recognized and addressed by the boards and councils that fund and decide where funding goes in a particular district or area, determine what policies are set for those boards and councils and ultimately help you meet your needs, and your kids needs.”
All of the possible maps can be viewed on the Taft City School District website, and the final decision will be made at the next board meeting on October 18.