Ahead of a series of hearings expected to shape the future of local politics, a joint map is expected to be shared with the public next week that offers a preliminary view of what City Council districts would look like in Santa Clarita.
In what the plaintiffs are calling a win for city residents, the proposed map is being presented as a joint map by Santa Clarita and the group suing the city over an alleged California Voting Rights Act violation.
The CVRA complaint alleged the city’s at-large election disenfranchises a protected class, in this case, Latino voters. The city’s settlement offer doesn’t admit a violation; however, city officials announced their decision to settle in April 2022 because no CVRA lawsuit had ever been successfully defended.
While City Council members expressed opposition to the pending changes Friday, they also mentioned a commitment to transparency regarding the transition and urged the public to participate in the process.
As part of the remedy for the alleged violation, the map creates a district with a Latino plurality, or one in which Latinos make up the largest demographic. That district, labeled as No. 1 on a proposed map provided to The Signal by the plaintiffs’ attorney, is scheduled to be on the ballot in November 2024.
That district is largely Newhall, with a portion of the west side of Canyon Country, and includes a population that is nearly 60% Latino, according to data obtained by The Signal.
“It’s a good map,” said Scott Rafferty, the counsel for the plaintiffs in the complaint, Michael Cruz and Sebastian Cazares, a College of the Canyons governing board member.
“It’s a compromise map that we support, and we’re looking forward to public input,” Rafferty added.
The map, which could change based on public discussion with residents and the council, is scheduled to be shared by the city Feb. 22 through a website being created to inform the public about the process of changing to a district-based election: santa-clarita.com/DistrictElections.
Based on City Council member addresses and the proposed map Rafferty provided to The Signal, Councilwoman Laurene Weste and Councilwoman Marsha McLean would be in District 1; Councilman Bill Miranda and Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth would live in District 2; and Mayor Jason Gibbs would reside in District 3.
“We’re now going to be putting maps out that the public needs to take a very good look at, and they need to really fundamentally dissect how this changes everything about their community — or not,” Weste said Friday in a phone interview. “It depends on how we as a community hold it together. This is critical, and you’re losing four-fifths of your vote.”
McLean, who said in a phone interview Friday that she voted against settling the lawsuit, said she wanted to make the process as transparent as possible.
“We want to make sure that every resident who wishes to has a say in the process, and we’re going to be there to listen and do whatever we can to transition into the districts as best we can,” McLean said. “We have a great city and we’re going to do whatever is necessary to continue to make sure we have a great city.”
Both McLean and Weste said there’s been no decision made on what other district would be on the 2024 ballot, but it’s going to be part of the discussion once the map is officially released by the city.
“This is such a tremendous shift for Santa Clarita, that, you know, it’s our job to listen to everybody now,” said Weste, who added that historically, district-based elections lent themselves to the kind of corruption seen in Tammany Hall in New York, which, she added, at-large districts were employed to remedy.
Smyth said he hopes people will show up to the hearings in order to get involved and help them understand the nuances of the process, as there have been several other local agencies that have hosted similar hearings over CVRA-based election transitions.
“I know that (demographers) have done these workshops in many other jurisdictions and have a pretty good presentation to help the community understand in drawing maps and what they’re looking for, because they will also have to take into consideration Census blocks, which are different than precincts and different than neighborhoods,” Smyth said. “And these are things that the courts will look at. So, it is more detailed than just five districts of equal population.”
Smyth noted that while District 1 will be on the ballot in 2024 per the settlement agreement, the council has some flexibility in terms of the other choices that voters can weigh in on, and he also expected that to be a part of the public discussion at the hearings.
The terms for both Gibbs and Smyth end in December 2024. Weste, McLean and Miranda are in office until 2026, having been elected under the at-large system in November.
Gibbs filed the initial paperwork in December to form a City Council campaign committee for a run in the November 2024 election, according to records available at votesantaclarita.com, which indicate he collected a little over $14,000 in December.
As far as seeking re-election in 2024, Smyth said he hasn’t made a decision and that he usually makes the call about a year out from Election Day, after discussing things with his family.
“When I ran in 2016, it was always with the intent of doing at least one reelection,” Smyth said. “And after that, doing anything beyond that, I would sit down with my family and see if we wanted to do anything beyond one re-election, and we still have plenty of time for me to make that decision.”
Gibbs and Miranda did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story Friday.
The city’s website spells out the timeline for Santa Clarita’s public hearing process on district-based elections.
Both hearings will take place at the Newhall Community Center, the first at 6 p.m. March 1 and the second at 6 p.m. on April 13.
After the first hearing, a mapping tool will be available on the city’s website that allows community members to draw and submit their own maps for consideration at the second hearing.
In order to be published on the city’s website, any map would be due to demographers by 5 p.m. April 3. Those maps are scheduled to be published on the city’s website April 6.
After the second public hearing the following week, the city shared a second deadline for publicly generated maps, which is April 21.
The city is then expected to conduct a first reading of an ordinance adopting the City Council maps at 6 p.m. May 3, also at the Newhall Community Center. A second reading and formal adoption is scheduled to take place 6 p.m. May 23 in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Santa Clarita remains currently the largest city in the nation without a district-based election, according to the plaintiffs.
The Newhall Community Center is located at 22421 Market St. in Newhall. Anyone who would like to contact Rafferty regarding questions about the map can do so by emailing [email protected].