The city of Santa Clarita released its meeting schedule Wednesday for a series of public hearings that will inform City Council members about the public’s perspective on what a district map for their next election should look like.
The city formally announced its plan to adopt district-based elections for the 2024 ballot in April, as the result of a second lawsuit alleging a California Voting Rights Act violation.
The 2001 law “prohibits the use of an at-large election in a political subdivision if it would impair the ability of a protected class” — in this case, Latino voters — to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election, according to the law.
Two Santa Clarita residents sued in 2021, and City Council members ultimately decided to settle, citing their belief that their elections weren’t disenfranchising any residents but also acknowledging no such lawsuit had ever been successfully defended. The first lawsuit filed against the city resulted in the city consolidating its elections with November elections and a roughly $600,000 settlement, but the at-large elections remained intact. This time around, the city has agreed to pay the opposing counsel $370,000, and move to districts.
The first step is the city’s plan to release a map, which is scheduled to be posted Feb. 22 on santa-clarita.com/DistrictElections, which the city is required to create as part of its settlement.
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.
“At this public hearing, the demographer who will be helping with the technical aspects of map creation and population statistics will give a presentation on the starting point map, mapping requirements and introduce the community to the public mapping tool, which will allow residents to create and submit their own map with their desired districts,” according to the release
“Following the first public hearing, the community will have until April 3, to submit their maps to the demographer,” the release states. A second public hearing is scheduled to take place April 13, also at the Newhall Community Center, where council members can provide direction to the demographer regarding any changes to the starting point map based upon the council’s consideration of input from the public.
The City Council’s first public hearing in which the public can weigh in on the maps is expected to take place at the Newhall Community Center at 6 p.m. March 1, according to a city news release announcing the schedule. Residents also will be able to take part in the hearings via Zoom.
“It is unfortunate that our city was forced to make the transition to by-district elections, seeing how Santa Clarita has thrived under the current at-large process,” said Mayor Jason Gibbs, in a written statement released Tuesday evening. “However, we are committed to working with our residents to ensure the transition and map creation is a transparent and collaborative process.”
Any maps generated by the public would be due to the demographer by April 21, according to city officials. On May 3, the city is planning a first reading of the ordinance regarding a new district map for its 2024 election. The second reading and formal adoption would be scheduled to take place at the city’s May 23 council meeting.
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.