Santa Clarita’s transition from at-large to district-based elections for City Council might not happen in time for November as originally intended, council members discussed Tuesday.
The City Council voted 3-2 to postpone the transition process until Los Angeles County’s health order allows for public gatherings, such as public hearings. Mayor Cameron Smyth and Councilwoman Marsha McLean cast the dissenting votes to not adopt a proposed timeline that would have condensed a process of having multiple public hearings and drafting maps by June 30.
“I just do not think we can do this and do it right, and that’s important, doing it right. That’s not going to happen in this concise schedule. We need time to get this done right. And so, I am leaning very heavily to waiting for the next election,” said Mayor Pro Tem Bill Miranda, whose concerns about rushing the process mirrored those of his fellow council members, including McLean, despite her casting a “no” vote.
The intention to switch, which the City Council approved in March, 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.
Under a state order issued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended all deadlines for the Voting Rights Act, meaning Santa Clarita could hold off on the transition process beyond June 30, a deadline issued by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for the city to have finalized district information to accommodate a municipal district-based election in November.
“If you don’t make the June 30 deadline, you will not be switching to districts for the November 2020 election,” City Attorney Joseph Montes told council members, who heard from the public about condensing the process.
“We are very concerned about governance, and to rush this through with public hearings under such a short time frame is not appropriate for this community,” said resident Steve Petzold.
With the uncertainty of when gatherings, such as public hearings, will be allowed again countywide, the City Council voted to review a revised schedule when the county Department of Public Health has amended its health order around public gatherings.
As of Wednesday, the county had not discussed allowing gatherings to take place.