City remains undecided on district-based election

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Dan Watson/The Signal

Santa Clarita City Council members continued their deliberations on the future of council elections Tuesday during a closed session special meeting.  

The City Council has not publicly met about the possibility of transitioning to district-based elections due to litigation alleging that the city’s current “at-large” elections dilute the votes of Santa Clarita’s Latino community, comprising one-third of city residents. 

Tuesday marked the fourth time since late May that the lawsuit appeared on the City Council’s special closed session meeting agenda. Each time, City Attorney Joseph Montes did not have a report on the item during the public session. 

“The biggest holdup about moving forward really is the lack of census data,” said Councilman Cameron Smyth. “It’s hard to discuss drawing districts when you don’t have the most recent data available.” 

Mayor Bill Miranda, Councilwoman Marsha McLean and Councilman Jason Gibbs declined to comment on the subject. The Signal was unable to reach Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste by press time. 

“It’s premature for (City Council) to have any kind of conversation because you just don’t know what the data looks like,” Smyth said. 

California expects to receive data collected from the 2020 Census between Aug. 15-30, according to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which draws state legislative district lines among other state-level lines. 

Smyth said the city is in a different position than before the pandemic, when 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. The switch was delayed due to the pandemic.   

“Unlike state legislative or congressional seats, we don’t have a primary election, so that gives us a little bit more time before we have to make any final determination on how we’re going to proceed,” he said, noting Los Angeles County doesn’t require cities to submit their district maps until June 2022. 

The council will be thoughtful about reaching a determination, Smyth said. 

“We want to look at all of our options and make sure that whatever decision we do, we think it’s in the best interest of the entire city,” he said. 

Scott Raferty, a northern California attorney who sued the city under the California Voting Rights Act, said that city has to get moving, noting that he hopes the city will schedule hearings about district-based elections soon. 

“This is all about empowering new candidates,” he told The Signal. “The whole point is to enable people to raise money and have a campaign.” 

Rafferty said he thinks the city plans on dragging out the timeline on elections. 

“They don’t necessarily win by dragging it out. It could be that they drag it out too far. The remedy would be to enjoin the election. Nobody wants that,” Rafferty said of the possibility of the city’s actions preventing a 2022 council election from taking place. 

Rafferty said the outcome in the at-large 2020 council election would have been different for a candidate like Kelvin Driscoll, who finished in third place and a little over 3,000 votes short of winning a seat. 

“It just seems unfair that you actually had a minority candidate in the last election, who came within one percentage point of winning in the city as a whole, and pretty much any district would have allowed him to prevail,” he said. 

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