City OKs district-based map for next election 


The city of Santa Clarita approved Tuesday a district-based electoral map for the next City Council election, putting the remedial district and a district where Mayor Jason Gibbs lives in Saugus on the next ballot in November 2024. 

The council approved an ordinance with the changes for a first reading in a 4-1 vote, which is intended to settle a nearly decade-long legal battle the city has waged over its elections. A second reading is expected to formally codify the changes at the city’s next council meeting June 13. 

Councilman Cameron Smyth took the initiative to propose the motion for the ordinance as one of the two council members most impacted by the hearing. 

Smyth, along with Gibbs, is up for reelection in 2024. And as of now, as a result of the map chosen, he won’t be able to seek reelection.   

Smyth saw the move to districts and giving up his seat as the only way to put the legal challenges to rest and move forward together as a city, he said. 

“If I had thought there was any other alternative for us to pursue, I would have done that,” Smyth said. “But given the totality of the evidence and the research that I’ve done over the last several years, I really just felt that there was no alternative than to move to districts.”  

In terms of putting Gibbs’ seat on the ballot versus his own, he also said he wanted to give the mayor the opportunity to seek a second term and continue his work on the council. 

“Given where I am in my career, along with the mayor, I felt that it was in the best interests for the long term of the city, for the mayor to have an opportunity to continue his service and to run for a second term, as opposed to me seeking a fourth term,” he added. 

Councilwoman Marsha McLean was the lone vote against the ordinance, which put district nos. 1 and 3 on the ballot in 2024. 

The city’s contracted demographer started Tuesday’s hearing by reviewing the changes reflected in Map 113 over the previously proposed joint draft map. 

The map’s revisions, which the city detailed on the website set up to explain the electoral changes, were largely aimed at unifying neighborhoods that were inadvertently split in attempts to balance the districts. Each district had to have approximately 46,600 residents in order to remain balanced for the city’s population, and the smallest district can’t have a population with a more than 10% variance of the largest population.   

There were about a dozen attendees Tuesday night at Santa Clarita City Hall for the historic hearing. Perry Smith/ The Signal

The map splits Valencia between district Nos. 2 and 3, with 2 on the west side of that; whereas Saugus is somewhat split between district Nos. 3 and 4. District No. 5 is largely Canyon Country, with the exception of a carveout of several neighborhoods that were added to District No. 1 to make the Latino-majority district with Newhall. 

The city of Santa Clarita began a series of public meetings in February to decide on a district-based electoral map to settle a lawsuit filed by Sebastian Cazares and Michael Cruz back in December 2021.  

The two filed suit alleging the city of Santa Clarita violated the California Voting Rights Act with its at-large elections, contending those elections disenfranchised the city’s Latino voters by denying them a chance to elect their candidate of choice.  

The city has to date denied all claims that its elections have done that; however, city officials have said they’re settling on the advice of their attorneys, who have pointed out that to date, no CVRA lawsuit has ever been successfully defended. 

The agreed-upon settlement terms, which were announced in April 2022, called for the city to adopt district-based elections until at least 2030, starting in 2024, and for one of those districts to have a Latino plurality, and that the district be on the ballot in the next election.  

The latter provision created a potential for tension at Tuesday’s hearing in Council Chambers, because neither of the two candidates eligible for reelection in November 2024 lived in the so-called “remedial” district. 

Despite the historic nature of the council meeting, and the more than $1 million the city has spent in fighting the lawsuit, attendance was once again light. There were about a dozen attendees Tuesday at City Hall, and three requests to speak virtually.   

The city was first sued over an alleged CVRA violation in 2014, at which point it moved its City Council elections from April to November to line up with the general election starting in 2016. 

In the city’s April 2014 election, there were 15,871 ballots cast. In the November 2016 election, nearly 91,000 ballots were cast. 

The City Council took a five-minute recess at one point, after public commenters became belligerent during council members’ comments. A handful of residents have implored the city to abandon the settlement and fight the lawsuit, citing the fact that Santa Monica, which is represented by the same firm that represents Santa Clarita, still has a case in front of the state’s Supreme Court. 

Khan Scolnick, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, also previously has stated the unlikelihood of a city victory in past statements.  

City Attorney Joe Montes said the Santa Monica case is expected to have oral arguments before the court in its case by the end of June.  

“If the Supreme Court were to overturn the CVRA as unconstitutional,” Montes said toward the end of Tuesday’s hearing, in response to questions from Councilwoman Laurene Weste, “I think we would be having another discussion.” 

In terms of his political future, Smyth said the move makes him ineligible to run as things stand now in 2024, but the seasoned politician — who’s also served several terms in the state Assembly — said that things could very well change.  

“I’ve been doing this a long time, in that I’ve learned never speak in absolutes,” he said, “and 2026 isn’t that far away.” 

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