After months of meetings and years of legal wrangling, the city of Santa Clarita announced out of closed session Tuesday there will be a schedule of hearings for the public to give input on new electoral maps for the 2024 election that will split the city into five districts.
The first hearing is scheduled 6 p.m. March 1 at the Newhall Community Center, and the city will announce a website Wednesday meant to assist the public in the process.
Much remains up for discussion still, and any maps, which have yet to be publicly released, could still change as the result of input from the future hearings, once the city makes any maps and an online mapping tool available on its website, following the first of two planned hearings.
The report out of a 5:30 p.m. special closed-session meeting Tuesday mentioned there will be a schedule of hearings to discuss a map for district-based elections that’s still under consideration by the plaintiffs, Michael Cruz and Sebastian Cazares, and the defendant, the city of Santa Clarita.
The lawsuit settlement the city agreed to calls for a website with resources for residents regarding the process for changing its elections. That includes the hearing schedule and proposed maps. The city is expected to announce the website soon, and the page is required to stay active for 10 years. The public hearings are also mandated in the settlement agreement.
The City Council is expected to give opportunities for residents to share their input during both meetings, which will discuss any maps and the process.
Cazares and Cruz filed a complaint in Downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 29, 2021, alleging the city’s at-large elections reduced Latino voters’ “ability to influence the outcomes of Santa Clarita City Council elections and to elect council candidates of their choice,” according to the complaint.
The complaint stems from the California Voting Rights Act, or CVRA, a 2001 law that “prohibits the use of an at-large election in a political subdivision if it would impair the ability of a protected class, as defined, to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election,” according to leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.
The city announced its intent to settle in April, according to a statement form Kahn Scolnick, a partner with Gibson Dunn, a firm the city hired, who noted the City Council members disagree with the plaintiffs’ assertions about the city’s elections, but also are aware that no city has ever successfully defended itself from such a lawsuit.
The city was running out of time if its plan included confirming a schedule in compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement announced April 12, 2022.
The terms of the settlement the city agreed to call for a hearing to take place “after Nov. 8, 2022, and before March 3, 2023.” The council’s next scheduled meeting is Feb. 28, and the settlement also calls for the map to be released at least one week prior to the first hearing.
The settlement also calls for the map to be approved by June 30, 2023.
Scott Rafferty, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has noted on several occasions the goal is for the city and the plaintiffs to produce a joint map that’s supported by the public. Rafferty already has introduced one map, although neither side has indicated what the map proposed to the public will look like.
Both sides have previously acknowledged that a map that includes a district with a plurality of Latino voters — meaning one in which Latinos represent the largest group in said district — would avoid further litigation for both sides.
The other court-stipulated outcome would be for that district to be on the ballot for voters in 2024. Currently, that election is slated to put current council members, Mayor Jason Gibbs and Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth, on the ballot for voters.