An attorney threatening to sue the city of Santa Clarita over its at-large system of electing City Council members said he will not wait any longer to file a lawsuit after the council chose not to comply with his demands Tuesday night.
Proponents of the by-district plan for future council elections spoke at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, saying the body should make the move to district-based elections because the racial demographics of the city of Santa Clarita have drastically changed since the municipality’s founding.
The speeches in support of the change in election system came after a City Council closed session meeting regarding the threat of a lawsuit against the city that was announced last week.
The planned lawsuit argues that the current at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act, and diminishes representation of the Latino and Black minority communities in Santa Clarita.
Although the attorney’s ultimatum said the city would need to make significant progress toward the new system during the Tuesday night meeting, the council did not report any action out of closed session in response to the lawsuit.
After the meeting, Mayor Bill Miranda made arguments against the by-district voting system, saying that at-large voting allows individual residents to vote for five council members as opposed to just one. He also stated he does not see how gerrymandering toward a particular group would be beneficial for everyone.
“People can tell me all they want about representation, but for me, if I can vote for five people versus one, that’s pretty good representation,” Miranda said. He had said that he would wait, though, for “all the discussions to be done and all the presentations to be made before I make my final decision.”
Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Diane Trautman — who unsuccessfully ran for a council seat in 2018 — gave the council two options before them: work out a settlement with the Walnut Creek attorney threatening the lawsuit, Scott Rafferty, and accept his proposed redistricting map; or set the city up to potentially lose financially on the lawsuit.
Trautman said that ultimately the CVRA was not about getting a member of a protected class onto the council, but said it was about “making it possible for them to elect the candidate of their choice.”
She added that it would be a mistake for the city to wait on a decision by the California State Supreme Court on a CVRA case involving the city of Santa Monica.
“Santa Monica, for the reasons that it’s a strong case, I think they’re going to prevail,” said Rafferty, the Northern California lawyer threatening the litigation against the city. “But it’s also very unlike Santa Clarita. Santa Clarita has changed, and the problem is that the council literally hasn’t.”
Members of the NAACP Santa Clarita chapter spoke in favor of by-district elections and Alan Ferdman, a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board who has previously sought a council seat, said that the issue goes beyond race, and said it was better to have council members who live closer to your neighborhood than not.
No public speakers or council members spoke in favor of “at-large” voting during the meeting.
When asked if he would be pursuing the litigation after the passing of his Tuesday deadline, Rafferty said he would be awaiting a call from City Attorney Joseph Montes. He said, though, he would not be waiting on the California Supreme Court decision to determine whether the litigation would be filed.
“(The plaintiffs) have made a very simple request that (the council) put it on the public agenda and instead, they’re not even willing to explain to the public why they broke their word,” Rafferty said, later adding: “The only thing that’s going to slow things down, is whether we just decide we want to have a lot of plaintiffs, because there are a lot of people who I think are committed to this.”
“But we also need to get it done,” said Rafferty. “We’re not waiting (on the Supreme Court decision).”