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Our View: Stopping the legal ‘shakedowns’

Posted: April 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The city of Santa Clarita’s recent decision and announcement of a settlement with plaintiffs’ attorneys over alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act begs the question: Is this decision the result of an admission that there is a barrier in the city of Santa Clarita to racial and ethnic diversity being reflected in the community’s City Council makeup?

Or is the agreement just a way for the city to deal with an old-fashioned “shakedown” designed primarily to line law firms’ pockets with taxpayer dollars?

We think the latter.

The lawsuit against the city alleges Santa Clarita’s at-large election system allowing all voters to voter for all candidates — rather than a district-based system whereby voters cast ballots for regional representatives — dilutes the city’s Hispanic vote.

The city’s settlement calls for city elections to be held every other year in November, when statewide elections are held, rather than in April, as is the current system.

The settlement also calls for adoption of a “cumulative voting method” allowing voters to cast multiple votes for a single candidate.

In exchange for making these changes — in addition to forking out $600,000 in attorneys’ fees — the city would be allowed to retain its current at-large system.

First, let us say that the Voting Rights Act’s intentions and purpose have merit, just as the Americans with Disabilities Act has merit.

But over time the ADA created a cottage industry of lawsuit filings whose focus appeared to be more on generating income for the legal profession and less on the important needs of the disabled.

We are concerned that, based upon what we are witnessing, this will also be the eventual plight of the Voting Rights Act — or parts of it.

Three local government agencies were hit by the lawsuits, and two have announced settlements.

And to be fair, we can understand the city’s and the Sulphur Springs School District’s rationale in trying to settle these lawsuits. It is better to cut a deal with the antagonists now for lesser money than it is to take a chance on a much more expensive and onerous outcome from a judicial system not always noted for being sensible.

Sulphur Springs School District coughed up nearly $150,000 of taxpayers’ money intended for instructing children, which will now end up lining the pockets of a couple of out-of-town law firms who, among other things, specialize in extracting money from local government.

It is like a little kid who changes his route to school every day to avoid the bullies on the old route. It’s a pragmatic solution to avoid a threat that is fundamentally and morally wrong.

It is our view that in a few days, one or more Hispanic members of our community will be elected to the City Council by the electorate at large.

We know ethnicity is just one of the criteria that can be considered in the redistricting component of the Voting Rights Act — but it is the big one.

And we can think of few things more “racially polarizing” than drawing a voting district containing mostly one minority or ethnic group.

We are also put off by the insinuation that our elected officials, regardless of their race or ethnicity, represent constituents differently based on that constituents’ race or ethnicity.

That has not been our experience, and we routinely get after elected officials for things they have or have not done.

Perhaps we should find legislative remedies to the unintended “shakedowns” from the Voting Rights Act — as were passed concerning the ADA.

Maybe we should stand up against the bullies and just take the right route to school.



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