The 2022 election is already shaping up to be a pretty interesting one in Eureka, with the City adjusting its ward boundaries and implementing a Ranked Choice Voting system — two changes advanced by the Eureka City Council during its Tuesday night meeting.
Following several meetings discussing adjustments to the City’s ward boundaries — an action deemed necessary after the 2020 Census data revealed changes to Eureka’s population — the council voted unanimously to move forward with redrawing Eureka’s wards and selected a map that made minimal changes. The Third Ward sees the most adjustments, since the Census data showed substantial population growth in that ward, but sections of all five wards will be adjusted at least slightly. So if you live on the cusp of any two wards, you might want to take a closer look at the realignments to see if you’ll be affected.
If you have concerns about this process, the issue will come before the council once more — likely at its next meeting — before the wards are adjusted. Of course, impacted residents will also be notified of the changes made.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting the council voted unanimously to implement a Ranked Choice Voting system, which was approved by Eureka voters in the 2020 general election. City Attorney Bob Black told the council that, if everything goes well, the system will most likely be in place by the 2022 election.
In 2022 Eureka residents will be electing a mayor and councilmembers to represent the First, Third and Fifth Wards and Ranked Choice Voting will be used in any of the races where more than two candidates are running. Voters are given the choice to “rank” the candidates by selecting their first, second and third choice, etc. The votes are then counted in rounds. In the first round, each ballot is counted as a vote for the first choice candidate on that ballot. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, then the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes is eliminated. Every ballot counting towards the eliminated candidate is then counted again for votes cast for the next-ranked continuing candidate. This process continues until a majority is reached for one candidate.
In the unlikely event that two candidates tie in the final round, the council decided that whichever of the tied candidates received the highest number of first round votes will win.
Because this will be a new system to Eureka voters, the city plans to launch some educational efforts once staff gets the go ahead from the County Elections Office. Eureka City Clerk Pam Powell told the council that since Eureka does not hold its own elections, the process of implementing Ranked Choice Voting will require the County Elections Office to install a new type of software, or to agree to do a hand count, if it does not yet have the proper software capabilities. Powell said that the City should have an update from the elections office by the first of the year.
In other business, the council also unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting the handling or storing of coal or petroleum coke on city-owned property or property held in the public trust.
The ordinance — prompted by concerns over potential corporate attempts to facilitate large-scale coal exports by train between Humboldt Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area — amends the City’s municipal code to declare the storing or handling of coal an “unlawful nuisance” and would subject violators to a fine or potential jail time.
There are exemptions for storing or handling small amounts of coal, for the purposes of non-commercial or craft use. At the request of Councilmember Natalie Arroyo, the City added a definition of “small amount,” defining it as less than 25 lbs. over a 24-hour period.
Several councilmembers expressed relief that this issue had been addressed, mentioned that they had heard overwhelming support for the ordinance from the community.
“I just want to thank the community,” Councilmember Scott Bauer, who attended the meeting remotely, said. “I don’t think I’ve ever received so many emails in support of an ordinance. I can’t believe this is even an issue that we’re facing that we would have to be concerned about burning coal, given the state of the climate.”