The Santa Clarita City Council held its first special public hearing of two Wednesday evening to allow the public to view and discuss a joint map depicting what new City Council districts would look like in Santa Clarita – with a final map to be adopted in May as part of a settlement in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.
The CVRA complaint alleged the city’s at-large elections disenfranchise a protected class, Latino voters. The city’s settlement offer doesn’t admit a violation, but city officials announced their decision to settle in April 2022 because no CVRA lawsuit had ever been successfully defended.
Douglas Johnson, the city’s demographer with the National Demographics Corp., gave an overview of the joint map agreed upon by the City Council and the plaintiffs. He also explained the legal requirements for council districts and showed how members of the public can propose their own district maps for consideration.
“When we’re talking about district election maps, there are different sets of rules you have to follow in terms of the map,” Johnson said.
He explained the map must comply with federal laws, state criteria for cities, a key component of the settlement agreement and other traditional redistricting principles.
The settlement agreement noted the remedy map must include a district “in which Latinos have a history of consistent support from a minority coalition and cross-over voters…and give Latinos…the best opportunity to influence the outcome of City Council elections.”
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 the joint map, 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 plaintiffs in the complaint, Michael Cruz and Sebastain Cazares, a College of the Canyons board of trustee member, in a recent interview with The Signal.
In addition to Johnson’s presentation Wednesday evening, the city of Santa Clarita created a webpage dedicated to informing the public about the process of changing to a district-based election: santa-clarita.com/DistrictElections. The information can be found in English and Spanish.
Residents can also generate and suggest their own maps for the city and plaintiffs to consider and submit public comment using tools on the webpage.
Some attendees voiced their concern with the whole process and expressed their frustration at the city having to change from at-large voting to district voting. Some public speakers called the joint map racist and said it would do the exact opposite of what the lawsuit aimed to correct — it would disenfranchise Latino voters.
Others in the public comments expressed their support for the joint map as they felt it would empower Latino voters and allow for that group of voters to be represented better on the City Council. In addition, some residents said the change to district-based elections would bring about positive changes for Santa Clarita.
“I think there were some acoustical issues, but you know, we’re trying to do the best that we can to get this information out to the public,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs. “We also have the virtual component as well.”
“We want to make this easy for everybody,” he continued. “We want people’s involvement and encourage everyone to be involved. Submit maps, go to the website, understand the process because this is a very big thing for Santa Clarita.”
The second public hearing is scheduled for April 13.
Members of the public to submit maps to be considered and the demographer will publish public maps online on April 26.