Santa Clarita residents expressed a mix of support and frustration during the first of two special public hearings hosted by the Santa Clarita City Council Wednesday evening — as the city and plaintiffs of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit are slated to adopt the final map in May.
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 a summary of the joint map agreed upon by the City Council and the plaintiffs. He also explained the legal requirements for council districts, and he showed how members of the public can propose their own district maps for consideration.
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.
After Johnson’s presentation, attendees addressed the City Council and provided public comments.
Santa Clarita resident Alan Ferdman was one of about 30 people who attended the public hearing at the Newhall Community Center. He voiced his frustration with the chosen location for the meeting because the acoustics made it difficult to hear the speakers — and other attendees expressed that same frustration.
He’s hoping the next public hearing will be held at City Hall.
But his main concern was that he wanted to understand why the proposed joint map depicted a larger District 1 from the original proposed map, which was published in The Signal in early January.
“I just talked to the demographer, and he told me that it was to offset the Tesoro annexation,” Ferdman said. “All the districts had to grow some. That was a reasonable explanation, and that’s why I was here to understand why (attorney Scott) Rafferty’s map had to be modified.”
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.
“I’m a proud Hispanic Republican in Canyon Country,” said Tony Maldonado. “The CVRA is unconstitutional. Hispanics and other Santa Clarita residents with common political, economic and other interests who reside in different parts of the city will be divided into separate districts.”
Others said they support the joint map as presented as they felt it would empower Latino voters and allow for better presentation on the City Council across Santa Clarita.
Cheryl Corriveau Cox, a resident of Santa Clarita, said she supported the proposed joint map.
“I think the map that the city and the [plaintiffs] created is inclusive and fair,” she said. “I think that’s the route that we should move forward with so that we can finally have these fair and equitable district-based elections.”
She also commended the opportunity for the public to draw and submit their own proposed maps, but she worried whether members of the public with “no intimate knowledge or experience in global politics” would create maps that would work.
“In this world, we all come from different opinions and experiences, which is why we need district-based elections to incorporate all of our views, cultures and our ideas into a really great inclusive Santa Clarita,” Cox said.
She would be looking forward to district-based elections as she felt the City Council has not been “very representative” of the current population.
Scott Rafferty, the counsel for plaintiffs in the complaint, Michael Cruz and Sebastain Cazares, a College of the Canyons board of trustee member, said the change from at-large elections to district elections is about making the system more representative of the voters of all races.
“We’re talking about elections, and making them more competitive,” Rafferty said during public comment.
He added district elections would cost less for candidates as they would just focus campaigning on their respective district rather than the whole city. He also said council members will be held more accountable to their respective community and district they represent.
“They’ll go the same grocery store, see the people and focus more on the specific needs of their community,” he said.
While City Council members have expressed opposition to the changing from at-large elections to district elections, they’ve also mentioned a commitment to transparency regarding the transition and urged the public to participate in the process.
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.
The second public hearing is scheduled for April 13.