IRVINE – Irvine Ranch Water District is the latest government agency to receive a letter demanding it change how its leaders are elected to better represent minority groups or face a lawsuit.
Cities throughout Southern California have received similar letters from Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman on behalf of interested groups.
Irvine Ranch – which serves about 390,000 residents in Irvine and portions of Lake Forest, Tustin, Newport Beach, Orange, Costa Mesa and some unincorporated areas – violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act by relying on an at-large system to elect its board of directors, Shenkman alleged in his Feb. 7 letter to the water agency.
Voters now choose from all candidates within the Irvine Ranch boundaries for the five-member board, responsible for the water agency’s policies and decision-making. Each member serves a four-year term.
“IRWD’s at-large system dilutes the ability of Latinos and Asians (both ‘protected classes’ under the voting rights act) to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of IRWD’s governing board elections,” wrote Shenkman, who said he sent the letter on behalf of his client, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and its members.
The letter urges Irvine Ranch to “voluntarily change” to district voting – which would split the service area into districts so residents vote among candidates from their own geographic area.
“Otherwise, on behalf of residents within the jurisdiction, we will be forced to seek judicial relief,” the letter says. Shenkman requested a response by March 25.
“The concerns raised are important to us because we have always believed our customers come first,” Irvine Ranch spokeswoman Beth Beeman wrote Tuesday, Feb. 13, in an emailed statement. “This is illustrated by our long history of active engagement and participation in the communities we serve and the many ways we offer our customers to learn, engage and…