Palm Desert city council is set to discuss redistricting options this week, following the passage of Measure B by the majority of voters in November. Measure B proposed switching from two city council districts to five, but new documents reveal that several other options will be considered by the council, despite the voter support.
Although 53 percent of the vote in the November 2022 general election was in favor of Measure B, it was an advisory measure, which means the final decision on how, or if, the city will redistrict is up to the council.
"That is the point of the advisory measure, they wrote themselves a loophole," said Mayor Pro Tem Karina Quintanilla, who is the sole representative for District 1.
The city's current two council districts in Palm Desert were established in 2019 after the city was sued for violating the California Voting Rights Act, which requires fair representation for minority voting groups. Residents of District 1 in central Palm Desert vote for a single representative, while residents of District 2 in the rest of the city vote for four councilmembers.
The city report up for discussion this week shows several redistricting options, including five single-member districts, four single-member districts with an at-large mayor, or remaining with the current two districts.
Quintanilla pointed out that there are areas of the city that currently do not have a dedicated representative, such as parts of north Palm Desert where hundreds of homes are being built. "The residents have very different needs and they're in favor of getting districts because they feel a little bit left out from the focus of Palm Desert," Quintanilla said.
She added that current council members live in a concentrated area of the city, which she believes is affecting their decision on redistricting. "I think that's why they've been fighting so hard against it because it would impact their ability to stay on council or be able to run once again," Quintanilla said.
Councilmember Jan Harnik, who is on a redistricting subcommittee with Quintanilla, has expressed her lack of support for more districts in the past. "I really support us being together as one community. And it's unfortunate that there are two districts now," Harnik told News Channel 3.
Harnik also said last year she was in favor of putting the issue to voters to decide. "We should put it on the ballot. And we should allow there is no closer way for people to get to government than to go and go into the polling booth and to cast their ballot," she said.
The city council will have a study session on redistricting this Thursday and will provide direction at the city council meeting on May 25th.