The lawyer who has previously threatened to file litigation against the city of Santa Clarita pushing for by-district voting has done so, submitting his lawsuit last week.
Scott Rafferty, the lawyer for plaintiffs Michael Cruz, Sebastian Cazares and Neighborhood Elections Now, an organization run by Rafferty out of of Walnut Creek, California, asks for injunctive relief on the basis of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
“Be electing its council at-large, the city of Santa Clarita dilutes the votes of Latino citizens, suppresses the ability of their communities to recruit and support candidates for public office, and presents them from aggregating their votes to elect those candidates in single-member districts,” reads the lawsuit. “In recent elections, Latinos, Blacks and Asians have voted in coalition.”
The litigants argue that to vote for a single representative from their neighborhood district would result in more representative candidates for local communities with large Latino and minority populations in future City Council elections — groups whose populations have grown since the city’s system was implemented decades ago and are protected by the CVRA.
Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing that city staff could not comment on pending litigation.
Councilman Bill Miranda, in a previous statement made to The Signal during his tenure as mayor for 2021, said his personal belief was that redrawing of lines along possible ethnic boundaries could open up new problems in terms of democratic equity. He also stated he believes the present system, where residents vote for all five council members as opposed to a single one representing their neighborhood’s district, gives each voter more autonomy.
“We on the City Council represent every single resident and it doesn’t matter what color they are or what color you are,” said Councilwoman Marsha McClean in a previous meeting. “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.”
During the same council meeting, Tony Maldonado, a resident of Santa Clarita and self-identified Hispanic/Latino, called the lawsuit then-threatened by Rafferty racist, saying it caused segregation within the city.
“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,” said Maldonado.
Sebastian Cazares, a trustee on the College of the Canyons governing board and the youngest elected official in L.A. County history, said he was a part of the lawsuit in order to ensure better representation for underrepresented communities.
“Santa Clarita is the third largest city in L.A. County and one of the last large cities in the country to use at-large systems,” said Cazares. “I’m suing to empower the voting rights and civil rights of an underrepresented Latino community.”
“Civil rights and voting rights advocates across the nation have argued the at-large system suppresses the voice of minority representation,” Cazares added. “We’re a changing and diversifying community using an electoral system that maintains incumbency and, though I do respect their public service, people elected in office at a much different time.”