District-based elections are on the Santa Clarita City Council’s agenda for a closed session discussion next week.
Council members will discuss Tuesday the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit brought against the city in February 2020 alleging that the city’s current “at-large” elections dilute the votes of Santa Clarita’s Latino community comprising one-third of Santa Clarita residents.
The district-based election format would permit a voter to select one person to represent their geographic area of the city on the City Council.
In March 2020, the City Council declared its intent to switch to district-based elections by the end of June, in time for the November 2020 City Council election.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state order suspending deadlines related to the CVRA, effectively placing a hold on scheduled public meetings to start the districting process.
With the anticipated lifting of Newsom’s orders later this month, the city will have to resume hearings about district-based elections, according to Scott Rafferty, the northern California attorney suing the city.
“(The city), under any conceivable interpretation of how that suspension works, (has) to be done by Sept. 11,” Rafferty said. “That is before the (2020) Census data even comes out in all likelihood.”
California currently expects to receive 2020 Census data from the U.S. Census Bureau in mid- to late-August, according to a timeline on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission website.
Rafferty said the city would need to request a districting deadline extension or face the possibility of litigating the matter in court.
“I can’t give them an extension under the law unless (the city makes) a clear commitment to get (districting) done by the next regular election,” he said.
Without an extension, Rafferty said the city will have to hold hearings using 2010 Census data to create “districts to nowhere,” before holding more hearings once 2020 Census data is available to redistrict before the 2022 City Council election.
“You exhaust people’s ability to show up the first round and then you do things with less visibility the second round,” he said. “I don’t want that.”
Rafferty said he would be able to reach an agreement with the city if it agreed to comply with the FAIR MAPS act, a 2019 state law requiring cities and counties to “engage communities in the redistricting process by holding public hearings and/or workshops and doing public outreach, including to non-English-speaking communities,” according to the California Secretary of State’s website.
He said the law offers an exemption to cities that are transitioning from “at-large” to district-based elections. In particular, Rafferty said requirements around archiving and electronic documentation are important to him.
“We have three options,” Rafferty said. “(The city) can tell me, ‘Sue (me),’ they can do the whole thing twice, or we can come to an agreement where they do it once but they do it well.”
Santa Clarita City Attorney Jospeh Montes declined to comment on the closed session item.
To view the full City Council agenda and learn how to participate in council meetings, visit http://santaclaritacityca.iqm2.com/Citizens/default.aspx.