Council meets in closed session on possible Voting Rights Act lawsuit

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Santa Clarita City Council members conducted a special meeting Monday in closed session to discuss “anticipated litigation” regarding a California Voting Rights Act letter sent to the city by attorney Scott Rafferty. 

While no comment from either city officials and the general public was made following the meeting, which was held at City Hall, City Attorney Joe Montes said Monday’s meeting is one of several they are expecting to have on the potential lawsuit. 

“I think we’re going to continue meeting to discuss options initially,” he said after the meeting, adding that the city has not yet heard from any concerned members of the community. 

Rafferty did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. 

When asked for comment on the status of the city’s CVRA discussion prior to the meeting, Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth said, “I would expect that we’d be receiving an update from any discussions that our city attorney has had with the plaintiffs from the letter we received in February.” 

As the letter is part of expected litigation, no further comment from the city is being made at this time; however, there was a chance for residents to give public comment before the council convened to closed session. No members of the community attended before the council met in closed session. 

The city of Santa Clarita received a petition from the Walnut Creek attorney on behalf of a group of voters asking the city to comply with the California Voting Rights Act, alleging the local government’s at-large elections dilute the votes of Latino residents. 

The letter from Scott Rafferty, received by the Santa Clarita Clerk’s Office on Feb. 4, states that Neighborhood Elections Now, “a group including Santa Clarita voters of a variety of races and ethnicities,” is asking the City Council “to abolish at-large elections and create single-member districts.” 

“We give notice of our belief, supported by evidence, that Latino electors within the city have different electoral preferences than those who are not Latino, as demonstrated in the returns for ballot questions and contests for office,” the letter reads. “Therefore, the use of at-large voting dilutes the electoral influence of Latinos as a community, which violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).” 

This is the second time the city has been threatened with litigation over the California Voting Rights Act. 

In 2016, the city settled a similar matter in the Soliz and Sanchez-Frazer v. Santa Clarita case, which resulted in the City Council’s elections being held in November, as it is currently set, rather than in April, of even-numbered years. The settlement called for the city to pay about $600,000 to the plaintiffs. 

That lawsuit also alleged that the balloting system diluted Latino votes. 

Staff writer Tammy Murga contributed to this report.

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