The city of Santa Clarita turns 30 this year. A lot has changed since its formation: its size, its population, the number of its schools, of its jobs, of its parks and so on have all grown.
However, one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s its form of government.
Since its birth Santa Clarita has always had five elected council members. Fast forward almost 30 years and we are the third largest city in Los Angeles County.
The first and second largest cities in Los Angeles County have more than five council members and their councils are elected by district, not at large.
Several cities smaller than Santa Clarita have more council members and are elected by district, as well.
A couple of years ago Santa Clarita settled a Voting Rights Act lawsuit. Pursuant to the settlement, the city agreed to move its elections to November in even-numbered years and agreed to cumulative voting.
Unfortunately, the California Secretary of State determined that he did not have the legal authority to certify an election that used cumulative voting.
Thus the only change made was moving the election to November in even-numbered years, adding it to the ballot during high-participation elections with state and federal offices on the ballot. November 2016 was the first such election for the Santa Clarita City Council.
The change increased voter participation, but it also greatly increased the cost of running for City Council.
During the recent City Council elections, both winners raised the most amount of money yet in a council race. Gone are the days of walking precincts, greeting voters and making lots of public appearances to score sufficient votes.
Back in the days a candidate had to get about 6,000 votes to win and could run a serious campaign with about $20,000. Now you need to at least triple that amount of money and more than triple the amount of votes to win.
By switching to voting by individual districts, we can make our council elections more local again. We already have increased voter turn-out; now we need to reduce the amount of money needed to run a serious campaign.
I’ve heard the argument that by switching to districts we run the danger of all the districts ganging up on one and depriving it of services. I have yet to see any proof that actually happening.
It’s hard to imagine one person representing all of Santa Clarita. Take a drive from Calgrove in Newhall to north Valencia, then through Saugus to Canyon Country, then return to Newhall.
We have a large city and each neighborhood has its own specific needs, whether it’s a library, sports fields, sidewalks or shade-covered bus benches.
Santa Clarita will continue to grow in population and size; unlike many other cities in this county, it’s not entirely surrounded by other cities.
At some point, which I hope is sooner rather than later, we need to change our form of governance from at-large council elections to district-based elections.
K-12 public school boards and College of the Canyons have already changed to district-based elections, and if the two water boards proposing a merger are joined, the new water agency will consist of a board elected by districts, as well.