CATHEDRAL CITY – This community, the second largest in the Coachella Valley, did not voluntarily move from at-large elections to district elections on Nov. 6. Their political hands were forced under threat of litigation to increase participation among Latinos in the city.

It worked.

The number of Latinos on the City Council has doubled. Ernesto Gutierrez, who was sworn into office on Dec. 10, joins John Aguilar on the City Council.

The move to district elections in Cathedral City was triggered by a letter leaders received alleging the city elections could be racially polarizing. The letters came from an attorney representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project alleging the cities were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act due to its process of at-large elections instead of district elections to elect members of the respective City Councils. The letters requested the cities switch to at-large elections or face judicial action.

The letter also alleged that the at-large election process has diminished the ability of Latinos in the community to impact elections and has resulted in racially polarized voting.

While the threat of litigation was aimed in getting increased numbers of Latinos involved on the City Council, Gutierrez is taking a different approach.

In a brief question-and-answer exchange with Uken Report, Gutierrez explained.

Uken Report (UR): What will having your Latino representation mean to your city?

Ernesto Gutierrez (EG): We already have Latino representation within our city council and that’s Councilmember John Aguilar.  I believe that having an additional councilmember with Latino roots as part of our city council, may give Hispanics more confidence in their local government.  I also hope that as a newly elected council member of Cathedral City, I will inspire a lot more people in our community to get more involved in local politics.

UR: Will you capitalize on your Latino status in any way?

EG: No, I will not capitalize on my Latino status. I look forward to accomplishing my duties as a councilmember based on my performance and hard work and not my race.

UR: What issues/concerns did you hear specifically from Latinos in community – or any constituents – in your district that you will immediately focus on?

EG: While campaigning for City Council I knocked on many doors, talked to our local residents, and listened to their concerns. My immediate focus will be on the following:

  1. Maintaining the safety for our community
  2. Improving and repairing for streets
  3. Enforcing our current municipal codes and beautifying our neighborhoods.
  4. Addressing the needs of our homeless community
  5. Bringing back local shopping

A scheduled retreat for all Council members and city staff will take place in January to discuss all of our goals for the upcoming year, Gutierrez said.

“I’m looking forward to working alongside my colleagues and councilmembers to help improve our city and address our community needs,” Gutierrez said.