City Council reluctantly approves tight schedule for by-district elections transition

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Although reluctant, the Santa Clarita City Council unanimously approved a tight schedule to start the framework toward its transition to district-based elections that will kick off next month. 

Practicing physical distancing and with the public tuning in virtually, council members reconvened on Tuesday at City Hall and adopted a resolution that pushed the timeline of public hearings to a later start following their March 19 decision marking the city’s intention to switch from at-large to district-based elections. 

The decision comes after Santa Clarita received a letter from Walnut Creek attorney Scott Rafferty on behalf of a group he said is asking the city to comply with the California Voting Rights Act, alleging the local government’s current elections dilute the votes of Latino residents. 

The council heard comments via phone from both supporters and opponents of the transition, including from Tony Maldonado, a Latino resident of 22 years, who criticized Rafferty’s push for district-based elections. 

“If allowed to proceed, the segregation of the city from at large into district-based voting would be the introduction of redlining and segregation, which are discriminatory practices that will create pockets of disenfranchisement within our city,” he said. 

In response, Rafferty told the council via phone: “My clients aren’t racist. We’re trying to enforce the law that is designed to provide equal voting rights for everyone. So, I’ll leave it at that and thank you for moving forward.” 

There were no known members of his group that provided comment on Tuesday. 

“As long as there has been a city, the council members have always taken steps and looked at the entire city on issues that we have voted and have done everything we can as council members to represent the city as a whole,” said Mayor Cameron Smyth, “and I know I can speak for those of us here that doesn’t change whether we’re in a district or not.” 

Originally, the city had until June 18 to complete the public hearings, which will offer the community a chance to provide feedback on suggested district map ideas, based upon the safe harbor deadlines under the Elections Code. Due to the extended safer-at-home order to May 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was leniency with the June 18 deadline. 

In order to accommodate a municipal district-based election in November, however, Santa Clarita will have to provide Los Angeles County with finalized districting information by June 30. 

The approved timeline, which starts from May 19 through June 23, goes as follows: 

  • May 19: The first public hearing is scheduled and expected to be conducted before maps are drafted by a city-hired demographer.
  • May 26: The second public hearing is set, with the council’s input on districting criteria from the first two hearings. 
  • May 29: Deadline for submission of public maps.
  • June 9: The third public hearing is scheduled, with content of draft maps and sequence of elections. 
  • June 17: The fourth public hearing is set, where a map will be selected and an ordinance to officially establish district elections is expected to be introduced. 
  • June 23: The fifth and final public hearing is scheduled, when the ordinance is expected to be adopted. 
  • June 30: The deadline for the county registrar to receive the districts’ boundary file.   

The City Council is expected to reconvene on May 12 for its upcoming regular meeting. 

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