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Stockton Residents Say Citywide Elections Don’t Represent Neighborhoods’ Voices

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Leigh Martinez Leigh Martinez
Leigh Martinez is the multimedia journalist covering the San Joaquin...
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STOCKTON (CBS13) — Several South Stockton residents wonder if their vote really counts. They are voicing their opposition to citywide elections, which allows people who live miles from their neighborhood to elect their district council member.

“I moved here in the beginning of the 60s,” said Mae Lillian Smith, who remembers years ago her South Stockton neighborhood was considered one of the city’s most beautiful.

“We were always the ones that won first prize for the maintenance of our property.”

It’s a different neighborhood today for Smith’s son, Thaddeus, who returned to Stockton last year after living a decade in New York City.

“There’s some gunfire in New York of course, but out here it’s like assault rifles every night,” said Thaddeus Smith III. “You just go out to your car and it’s pop-pop-pop.”

Smith recently volunteered to help his neighborhood get speed bumps, but said the process had a few speed bumps of its own.

“There’s a long waiting list [for speed bumps],” said Smith. “From what I understand, the South side has been waiting approximately five years.”

Smith said he and other volunteers have to collect neighbor signatures by the end of the month, otherwise South Stockton gets put at the bottom of the city’s list. Smith said Councilmember Michael Tubbs promised to help collect speed bump signatures, but this weekend Tubbs and his volunteers knocked on doors for his Reinvent Stockton campaign. Tubbs never got the speed bump petitions out.

“It was a hiccup and if it was me, I’d be frustrated too,” said Tubbs. “It won’t happen again, but for whatever reason, the people who were delegated to do it, were not able to do it that Saturday, but it will get done this month.”

Tubbs’s critics said his door-knock campaign is just a publicity stunt for Tubbs and his data collecting is a waste of time. Tubbs said the Reinvent Stockton community outreach is doing good work for long term action.

“It’s to get the city, the school districts, the county to respond, they need data and evidence, so the idea is to yearly see how people feel about their community and have benchmarks to measure the success,” said Tubbs.

Smith said he thinks Stockton doesn’t need reinvention, but better representation.

NAACP president Bobby Bivens asked the city council on July 8 to revise the city charter on elections from city-wide elections to districts. Currently, a candidate could win a district election, but lose in the city-wide election. In Stockton, all voters in the city decide who wins in a district.

“People that don’t have a lot of money or don’t want to go out and raise a lot of money can’t run for office,” said Bivens at the July 8 city council meeting arguing city-wide elections are more expensive than district-only campaigns.

“It’s kind of like the city says that you might not be competent enough in your own area to pick the right candidate to represent you,” said Smith.

Tubbs agrees and wants to change Stockton’s Charter in favor of district elections.

“It makes the process more democratic and accessible,” said Tubbs. “The grandma on the street, the local activist who doesn’t have a nationwide or statewide or citywide network can run and represent their neighborhood.”

Other California cities have been sued by civil rights groups to end city-wide elections in favor of district elections.

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