Santa Clarita City Council members are hosting another closed session discussion Tuesday on the settlement of a lawsuit over an alleged California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.
The city announced a settlement agreement last April that entailed moving to a district-based election for 2024, after spending more than $1 million in fighting a pair of lawsuits filed over the city’s “at-large” elections.
The plaintiffs, Sebastian Cazares and Michael Cruz, filed their complaint Dec. 29, 2021, alleging that the city’s at-large elections denied Santa Clarita’s Hispanic voters an opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.
Noting that such a lawsuit has never been successfully fought, the city announced it was settling lawsuit No. 2 in April of 2022.
“This was a tough settlement to agree to,” said then-Mayor Laurene Weste in a statement shared on the city’s website. “Our city has thrived under the current at-large election process, through which residents are able to vote for all of the council members who represent them in this city. This new process means voters will only get to vote for one council member. This one council member will represent just one area of the city. However, it seems that fighting this lawsuit would be outrageously expensive with no possible successful conclusion.”
In April, the city announced it would be holding two public hearings after November’s election to determine what the city’s electoral map would look like under a district-based system.
While the plaintiffs have released a proposed map that creates a Latino plurality in one district, which was one of the lawsuit’s goals, the city has yet to respond with what map it will present to the public at those hearings. Past proposed maps, based on the demographics of the city, require the west side of Canyon Country and Newhall to be combined to create such a district.
The plaintiffs also put a clock on the council’s decision-making process, according to the settlement agreement.
There are two choices spelled out in the consent decree that both sides agreed to: The council can present one agreed-upon map at the first of two public hearings, the first hearing to take place no later than March 3. Or, council members can propose two maps, the plaintiffs’ and their own at the first hearing.
The agreement also notes that within 30 days of the first hearing, both sides’ attorneys will meet and then publish a revised joint map in advance of a second hearing — presuming both sides can agree on a map. If not, there will be two maps presented at the second hearing. There’s a time period designated for that, as well, per the agreement. The second meeting is to take place at least one week after, but no more than one month after the first.
The initial map proposed by Scott Rafferty, counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, places three of the current City Council members in the same district — Councilwoman Laurene Weste, and Councilmen Bill Miranda and Cameron Smyth. Of those three, only Smyth is expected to be on the ballot in 2024, the first municipal election that would be district-based.
A call to Rafferty was not immediately returned Monday. City Council members have previously declined to discuss a map prior to its public presentation, citing that such a document would be part of an active and ongoing legal discussion.