I was watching the Santa Clarita City Council meeting Tuesday evening and it was nice to see that after over six years and a second lawsuit, our City Council finally made the correct decision – district elections for the City Council. Unfortunately, we are now paying again to settle a lawsuit that could have been avoided had our City Council acted sooner and directed the staff to start the process anytime in the last six-plus years. Only with the threat of a potential lawsuit did the City Council finally begin to comment on this in early 2020 but then the pandemic hit, and the can was kicked down the road for another two years. When the latest lawsuit was filed at the end of 2021, the City Council started a discussion and after almost four months finally acted – at a cost.
A decision was made by the City Council on April 12 in closed session to settle the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit. With this decision the City Council delayed implementing district elections until after the 2022 election. The 2022 City Council election is expected to have three incumbents up for reelection, all whom have all indicated they plan to run again, and all who live within just a few miles from each other. It is most certain that one, two or possible all three would have had to compete against one another in 2022 had the districts been laid out in a timely manner. When the districts are in place for the 2024 election, the other two incumbents, should they run, will most certainly be in separate districts – how convenient for all five incumbents. If our City Council acted earlier, we could have easily had district elections this year (or even in 2018 or 2020) and avoided the second lawsuit. That would have meant incumbents possibly running against each other. It seems the incumbents didn’t want that.
Listening to our council men and women discuss the settlement during this past meeting and how they came to terms with making their “difficult” decision to settle the lawsuit was a bit amusing. The gist of the comments was along the lines of, “We had to do it to save money, the odds were against us winning a legal battle, it was too risky and could subject our citizens to great expense, and the CVRA is a flawed state law from 2001 and every city that has fought has lost and paid millions in settlement costs, etc.” All these facts were known for years and only when the lawsuit was filed did our City Council act. Because the City Council did not act sooner, the city will pay $370,000 to an attorney in Northern California — money that could have been better spent for the benefit of the citizens of Santa Clarita. Our City Council can and must do better and not wait for a lawsuit to do what is right. Without the lawsuit I doubt we would have district elections. This is not leadership.
While I personally object to the race-based claims of the CVRA in the recent lawsuit (I think the sentiments expressed by Councilman Bill Miranda and Mayor Pro Tem Jason Gibbs were spot on), I do feel that as the city has grown, it is past time for district elections. Local direct representation is better and not because of race or other criteria. Just look at our many local elementary school districts; local and direct is better. As we implement district elections, the City Council and citizens should also consider the following:
• Elected mayor representing the entire city, elected citywide and a full-time employee.
• Individual district field reps that are full-time city employees appointed by each council member.
• Primaries for City Council elections in June and a runoff in the general election in November.
• Term limits.
• One Vision One Valley – this includes aggressively pursuing annexation of the entire Santa Clarita Valley into the city with the support and the desire of those areas not currently a part of the city.
These will take time, community involvement, direction and transparency from our City Council and staff. These can and should be done this year, effective for the 2024 elections. No more delays, excuses or lawsuits please.
Santa Clarita is a great place to live, work and play, and I know Santa Clarita will continue to be the best we can be.