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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Fight racism: Oppose districts for PAUSD

Uploaded: Sep 5, 2018
A threatened lawsuit is seeking to enshrine racist attitudes on our School Board elections, and potentially on the policies of the PAUSD. ("^Law firm threatens action over school board elections: Letter alleges district's system 'dilutes' Latino and Asian votes^", PA Online, 2018-09-04). That racist attitude is that people are first and foremost defined by their race. The proposed remedy is one of districts to facilitate the individual elections being dominated, or disproportionately influenced, by members of one race. This, of course, presumes that Palo Alto neighborhoods are so racially segregated that the districts could be drawn to concentrate different racial groups in different districts.

I expect that most of you immediately spotted the absurdities. However, let me try to provide some structure for your communications to the School Board about that potential lawsuit, both principled and pragmatic.

The foundation of the lawsuit is that members of a racial group are so much like each other and so different from members of other racial groups that they need to be treated as a group, not as individuals. (This is a long-established argument and marks some "political fault lines"). The letter threatening the lawsuit argues against itself. It cites the controversy over naming a school after Fred Yamamoto as representing "racial polarization". But wait! That polarization was essentially between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and Asian vs Asian is not racial (in the sense of the lawsuit).
(Clarification/emphasis: "not racial" means not INTER-racial -- this instance is INTRA-racial -- because the threatened lawsuit specifies "Asian" as a race)
And within supposed ethnicities, there are great differences, for example Chinese with roots in Beijing vs. those from Taiwan, or Shanghai vs. Hong Kong vs. Guangdong (or so I am told). Similarly for the many regions of India, Southeast Asia, ... Don't spend too much time on this or you will get the "polarization" down to the level of individuals.

If the principles don't convince you, let's look at the practical details.

The School Board has 5 seats, so each district would have 20% of Palo Alto's population. Accord to the news article, Latinos are 7% of the city's population. So even if you managed to relocate all Latinos into one district, under racialized voting, a Latino candidate would lose in a humiliating landslide. So having districts would do nothing about the purported dilution of Latino votes, and could emphasize race in voting, making it harder for Latinos to get elected.

Question: Why are 5 winner-take-all elections more likely to be influenced by smaller groups than an election for 2 or 3 positions where the candidates have more flexibility in creating coalitions?

As to the claim that Asians have trouble getting elected, 2 of the current 9 City Council members are Asian-Americans: 22% vs 31% of residents (citizens, permanent residents, ...). And since both will be on next year's 7-member Council, that is 29%.
Rhetorical question: How would a districting scheme handle families with parents from different races? According to the theory underlying the lawsuit, a couple that is White and Asian would be simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged by our at-large elections.

One of the common results of districts is that its representative is accorded outsized influence on what happens in that district. For example, San Jose City Council members run "mini City Halls". So what would be the effect of dividing PAUSD into 5 districts. Three wouldn't have a high school. Two wouldn't have a middle school. If a family lives in one of these districts but their child goes to school in another district, who should they approach with problems? The representative that they vote for, or the representative who has primary responsibility for their child's school. Or would both point them at the other?

Since Palo Alto would likely continue to have staggered elections for School Board members -- so they don't all turn-over at the same time -- we would have elections where 40% or 60% of the electorate would have no influence on the result. This could produce a School Board that has less need to be responsive to the residents.

It would be interesting if the School District lawyers could find a way to file a complaint against that law firm for trying to extort the PAUSD to commit an illegal act (casting districting as racial discrimination). However, this law firm as gone after enough other municipalities and school districts that I presume that they would have considered this (plus a pattern of extortion falling under the ^RICO Act^). But since I and most of you aren't lawyers, that would only be wild speculation, and not suitable for discussion here.

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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 5, 2018 at 11:01 am

For once, I agree with your line of reasoning. I'm suspicious of the law firm. Is this part of their business model? How do they get paid?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Get It Right, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Sep 5, 2018 at 12:26 pm

"The letter threatening the lawsuit argues against itself. It cites the controversy over naming a school after Fred Yamamoto as representing "racial polarization". But wait! That polarization was essentially between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and Asian vs Asian is not racial (in the sense of the lawsuit)."

That's right. Racialism can occur only if whites are involved. All the rest of them are alike.

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They

-Kipling


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curious, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:38 pm

"And within supposed ethnicities, there are great differences, for example Chinese with roots in Beijing vs. those from Taiwan, or Shanghai vs. Hong Kong vs. Guangdong (or so I am told)."

Douglas -- I appreciate the points you raise in your blog post, though I am confused by this sentence. What purpose does the phrase "or so I am told" serve? This seems to detract from your point, which is that racial groups do in fact possess diversity within themselves.

[[Blogger: I anticipate that certain readers might be tempted to go off on a non-trivial tangent about this, and I was trying to indirectly preempt this -- tends to be better than a direct admonition ("This is off-topic") when possible.
]]


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Apple, a resident of Atherton,
on Sep 6, 2018 at 9:54 am

You hinted at this point, but it's worth pointing out more directly. Just because Latinos represent 7% and Asians represent 31%, doesn't mean they vote in those percentages. That's just the raw demographic information from the last census, which doesn't measure the electorate.

There are non-citizens, children, eligible voters who are not registered to vote, and people who are registered but don't vote. Voter demographics are very different than the census numbers.

BTW, the reason law firms are filing all these lawsuits is they get paid $30K if the government agency acquiesces to their demands to change to district elections. That's $30K for the cost of writing what amounts to a form letter and doing some internet searches on local demographics and electoral history.

If the government agency opposes the change to districts and loses the trial, then the law firm gets its expenses 100% reimbursed. That's usually in the millions of dollars. It's unbelievably difficult for the government to win one of these lawsuits based on how the law is written.

In essence, it's a shakedown.

Here's an article with more details:
Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Am I Missing Something, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 6, 2018 at 8:05 pm

"Just because Latinos represent 7% and Asians represent 31%, doesn't mean they vote in those percentages. That's just the raw demographic information from the last census, which doesn't measure the electorate. There are non-citizens, children, eligible voters who are not registered to vote, and people who are registered but don't vote. Voter demographics are very different than the census numbers."

Doesn't this observation apply to non-Latinos as well? If so, then the point being attempted is pointless.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Carolyn, a resident of another community,
on Sep 6, 2018 at 10:14 pm

If the PAUSD tries to fight this they will almost certainly lose -- no agency has ever won a CVRA lawsuit. Every single argument here was made in the City of Santa Clara, and continues to be made by those who think there's a way back to Santa Clara's "peculiar institution." Santa Clara is likely on the hook for $5 million+, while facing an $8 million general fund deficit.

This is the reality: The legislature isn't going to repeal the CVRA. PAUSD isn't going to be the David who knocks down the CVRA with some Constitutional sling shot. No judge is going to be moved by parsing the varieties of ethnicity and arguments about how Asians and Hispanics don't vote or prefer to vote for white candidates (all of which were made in Santa Clara and the judge didn't even bother to answer them in his ruling). PAUSD should spend its money on students, not lawyers. Doing otherwise is irresponsible and in itself is reason to remove the board members from office.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 6, 2018 at 11:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Carolyn

Condensing: Accusation equals proof.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Apple, a resident of Atherton,
on Sep 7, 2018 at 8:24 am

@Am I Missing Something

"Doesn't this observation apply to non-Latinos as well? If so, then the point being attempted is pointless."

No, field research significant differences in vote percentages among racial groups compared to their expected census percentages, except for African Americans. From the Public Policy Institute of California:

"Today, according to US Census estimates, non-Hispanic whites make up 42% of the state's adult population, but our surveys find that they make up 59% of the state's likely voters. In contrast, Latinos represent 34% of the state's adult population but account for only 21% of those most likely to vote. Asian Americans comprise 15% of the adult population and 11% of likely voters. The share of African American likely voters matches their representation in the adult population (6%). Our surveys over the past year indicate that 50% of Asian American adult citizens, 53% of Latino adult citizens, and 58% of African American adult citizens are likely to vote, compared to 75% of white adult citizens."

Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 10, 2018 at 8:24 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[[ Off-topic. History that is only vaguely connected to the question of the threatened lawsuit.]]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:52 am

Unfortunately, this story has an actual bottom line. The current state law generally favors district elections rather than at-large elections. PAUSD stands to lose more money if it fights. So, we need to ask ourselves if there is a reasonable way to create districts that will likely lead to a more effective school board. If there is, then, let's do it and save the money.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 11, 2018 at 2:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The cost to the School District is not just potential lawsuit, but the cost of a School Board that has a lesser collection of skills and energy.

As was pointed out in the comments on the news article, two of the current Board members live in Barron Park (Todd Collins and Ken Dauber). In this election, at least two of the candidates come from Barron Park.

Elections in Palo Alto typically see 20-25K ballots cast, although some of these may not vote for the "down ballot" offices such as School Board and City Council, and especially judges.
A 5 district system would have 4-5K ballot-casters in each.
You could easily elections where at least one of the districts had very weak candidates and another that had multiple very strong candidates.

District elections mean that the School District is unlikely to get the best combination of candidates elected (from random distributions).

The money saved by caving in to the threatened lawsuit could be lost to bad governance in subsequent years.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 12, 2018 at 8:40 am

I made this point in the news thread but will repeat it here.

If we had a Little Italy, a Chinatown area, or other specific ethnic areas around town, it might be something to think about. However, this is not the case. We are a diverse town with various ethnicities living in nearly all neighborhoods.

Also, just because people have the same skin color, it doesn't mean they all think the same way culturally. There are enormous differences between Chinese/Japanese, Indians/Pakistanis, Australians/New Zealanders, French/German, British/Irish, etc. even though they may look the same.

We have to celebrate our diversity and enjoy the fact that there are no distinct ethnic neighborhood enclaves. Yes, certain traits may be the same among certain groups, but those certain groups are spread out. I doubt very much a border could be drawn to change the demographics of the BoE.

I also can't see it would make us get a more diverse group of candidates. We tend not to have a huge number of choices whenever there is an election and I remember a few years ago that we had no election due to no candidates running.



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