Just months removed from settling a lawsuit that alleged Santa Clarita’s at-large voting system denies Latinos a fair voice, the city lost its lone Latino Council member when Dante Acosta resigned to join the state Assembly in December.
Then on Tuesday — following statements from the plaintiffs’ attorney in that lawsuit that the city remained vulnerable to further California Voting Rights Act litigation — the City Council appointed William Miranda, a Latino, to fill Acosta’s spot.
Are the two connected?
“No. Not at all,’’ said Councilwoman Marsha McLean. “I was looking for a person that could meet my criterion, and he (Miranda) fit that bill. It so happens that he’s a Latino. People try to paint a picture of things, and I think we need to look at the person who could do the best job.’’
Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste echoed those thoughts.
“That is so cruel to anybody who is a person of color,’’ Weste said. “Never mind what work you’ve done, just where do your parents come from? And I just will not go there. I doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think a person’s quality of work has anything to do with that.
“We’ve put (in) the best person we could find. He will do a great job because he’s done a great job in the community for decades.’’
Those comments came just two days after Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, in a “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast posted at signalscv.com, said that while the previous lawsuit against the city was settled, “It’s not to say that there’s not the potential to file another case.’’
“There’s literally tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand, people, in Santa Clarita, all with standing to sue the city of Santa Clarita under the California Voting Rights Act, to force them to abandon this unlawful (at-large) election system,’’ Shenkman said.
He added, “Maybe the fifth person (on the City Council) should bring some diversity of ideas. … That is certainly something I suppose could protect them at least in some respect from a CVRA case.
“It wouldn’t be complete protection for them. But if I were advising someone how to make their defense of a CVRA case a little bit better, that’s what they ought to do.’’
Mayor Cameron Smyth also said that Miranda’s appointment was neither a reaction to criticism of the Council – whose other members are all white — nor an act of fear against a potential lawsuit.
“I was going to support whoever I thought was the most qualified, and Bill certainly fell into that category, regardless of his ethnicity,’’ Smyth said of Miranda.
“The threat of CVRA lawsuit has been brought up several times since the settlement (in 2016), and if somebody does decide to file a complaint, then we’ll deal with it. In the meantime, our job is to try to move the city ahead as best we can.
“Bill Miranda can do that, not specifically because he is Latino, but because he is qualified.’’
Councilman Bob Kellar, meanwhile, said his vote Tuesday night against Miranda’s appointment only reflected his preference for another candidate, lawyer and former FBI agent Brent A. Braun.
“My thoughts (on Miranda) are very positive,’’ Kellar said. “I want the best person, and I spoke of who that person is, and I stuck to my guns. … I don’t care about ethnicity or sex or anything of that nature. ‘’
The 2013 CVRA lawsuit against the city was settled in 2016, with one aspect of the settlement being the city would move Council elections from April to the November general election, a time when a bigger turnout was expected, while keeping its at-large system intact.