The Santa Clarita City Council held its second consecutive closed-door discussion Tuesday regarding threatened litigation surrounding the way in which the council’s elections are conducted, and once again emerged from the closed session without an action to report.
Scott Rafferty, a northern California attorney representing a still unnamed group of local litigants, is threatening to sue the city over its “at-large” system of electing council members, contending the system violates the California Voting Rights Act. A by-district system, Rafferty argues, would increase the chances of historically underrepresented segments of the community being able to elect a council member who best represents them.
Mayor Bill Miranda said two weeks ago that his personal belief was that redrawing of lines along possible ethnic boundaries could open up new problems in terms of democratic equity. He also said he believes the present system, in which residents vote for all five council members as opposed to a single one representing their neighborhood’s district, gives each voter more autonomy.
City Manager Ken Striplin reminded those in attendance Tuesday that the city was precluded from commenting due to the pending litigation. He told the audience that, as other governing boards look at how the 2020 census data affected their respective trustee areas, the City Council is a separate entity with separate jurisdictions than, for instance, the school districts.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean weighed in after the council’s closed-session discussion Tuesday.
“We on the City Council represent every single resident and it doesn’t matter what color they are or what color you are,” said McLean. “It doesn’t matter what religion you are; it doesn’t matter at all… We are representing everyone, all five of us represent everyone, and going to districts will dilute our community.”
While a majority of the speakers during the council’s meeting two weeks ago stood in support of the by-district group’s proposition, Tuesday’s meeting featured speakers defending the at large system.
“I come to you in order to implore you to stand against the racist and bigoted actions being made by Mr. Scott Rafferty, attorney from Walnut Creek, who is intent on implementing racial segregation upon our city despite it being unconstitutional and violation of our civil rights,” said Tony Maldonado, a resident of Santa Clarita and self-identified Hispanic/Latino. ”The idea of doing away with at-large voting for City Council in our city and implementing racial segregation under the auspices of assuring Latinos that by segregating them into a small district will be of major benefit to us, is beyond the pale.”
While expressing his disapproval for the by-district system, saying he believes it would divide the community and therefore the residents’ representation in government, Saugus resident Jim Scott called on the City Council to publicly declare its position on the litigation.
“For two consecutive meetings you guys have met in closed session to discuss litigation, but there has been no public comment from that,” said Scott. “And so, I would just like to ask the council individually where you stand on this.”
The city of Santa Monica is undergoing a CVRA lawsuit of its own. That case is now before the California State Supreme Court, and while never expressly saying they would be waiting on the outcome of that case to determine how to move forward, Councilman Cameron Smyth said last week that he was following the case.
The city also has hired Gibson Dunn, the international law firm that is representing the city of Santa Monica in that case, Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya v. City of Santa Monica.
In the past, Rafferty has said his clients were amendable to avoiding litigation, hoping they and the city could come to a mutual agreement. However, Rafferty said Tuesday that if a representative for the city did not call him by Wednesday, he and his clients would “assume they aren’t settling.”
Rafferty could not provide a hard date for when he expected to file the paperwork on behalf of the plaintiffs on Tuesday, but has said he will not be waiting on a resolution from the State Supreme Court to move forward with his complaint.