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Sunnyside sets electoral districting schedule

The Sunnyside City Council last night, Thursday, agreed to a tentative schedule for proceeding with setting up electoral districts.

Council is proceeding with a plan that will have four city council seats apportioned based on geographical areas of the city, with the three other positions being at-large.

The boundaries set up for the four districts are based on precinct lines that Yakima County has established

The districting issue came up because of a college student's report identifying Sunnyside's seven current at-large council seats as a hindrance to electing Hispanics. Though the report was done based on names in the Sunnyside phone book, rather than a true survey, the Department of Justice has weighed in, instructing the city to proceed with districts.

Mayor pro tem Bruce Epps said he knows the city has to proceed forward, but is still against the idea of electoral districts. "I still feel and believe it will hinder participation rather than grow it."

Council's task last night was both to give a thumbs up to proposed district boundaries and a process that is above board in welcoming public comment and making sure not to exclude any group of the population in accordance with the voting rights act.

The city has until May 1, 2009 to have the voting districts drawn up and submitted to the county in order for them to be on the primary and election ballots later that year. Voters within each district can vote for those respective candidates in the primary but all Sunnyside voters will decide on the four districted candidates in the general election.

One district proposed would include an area approximately west of south Sixth Street to Swan Road. Other district boundaries on the drawing board would approximately cover areas north and east of Yakima Valley Highway, a portion of the city east of Sixth Street and west of Yakima Valley Highway, as well as a district area south of Lincoln Avenue.

The schedule agreed to last night is tentatively set to have an all-day public hearing on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009. The meeting will be held at a large venue, such as the high school auditorium, to allow for information tables and to accommodate the public. Council hopes to have representatives from Yakima County on hand to help with voter registration and to provide educational materials about the election process.

Prior to the Feb. 7, 2009 public hearing, council also pledged to make informational materials available about voting, through the media and other outlets, such as water bills and the school district.

City Clerk Deborah Estrada told council that Yakima County does not have any materials that outline how the district process operates for candidates and voters. She said the city will need to create an informational brochure that can hopefully be shared with the county and other cities in the county that will have to go through this same process.

After the public hearing, council hopes to be able to take formal action on the districts at the city council meeting on Monday, Feb. 23.

That would be followed by publishing the ordinance on March 11 and a 45-day enactment period during which voters could challenge the districts. It all, at least on paper, wraps up in time for the county's May 1 districting deadline.

The city's plan is to have all four of its open seats in the 2009 general election be apportioned to specific districts. That means some current council members either will not be able to run for re-election or may have to oppose each other if they reside in the same district.

Despite all this effort, council learned last night that Sunnyside will likely have to go back to the districting drawing board in 2010 once census figures become available.

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