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Santa Clarita takes stand against districting

Posted: April 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

The Santa Clarita City Council took a strong stand Tuesday against a state Assembly bill that would force all cities in California with at least 100,000 residents to break themselves into districts, eliminating at-large elections except in smaller cities.

At the same meeting Tuesday night, the council agreed to change its municipal election date from April in even-numbered years to the second Tuesday in November in even-numbered years. The move was part of a settlement of a lawsuit alleging California Voting Rights Act violations.

That lawsuit, filed last summer, claims Latino voters are denied fair representation in at-large elections and suggests an alternative to a legal battle would be to impose by-district elections.

But the city has balked at that move, and on Tuesday night it unanimously opposed Assembly Bill 2715, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of West Covina, which would force districts on California cities with more than 100,000 population. Santa Clarita would be among the cities forced to change its election system if the bill is signed into law.

At-large elections allow all voters to select all elected officials on a government body. By-district elections allow voters to cast ballots for candidates only within the region they live.

Citizens stood with the council on the issue Tuesday night.

“I strongly, strongly support that this city oppose this (legislation),” Glo Donnelly, a member of the city’s original formation committee, said of Hernandez’s bill. “Everyone chose this method (of at-large elections),” she said of the formation committee’s members. “I hope that we can fight this.”

Every city formed in the state during the past 35 years chose at-large balloting, rather than districts, said Allan Cameron, also a member of the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee. The city was incorporated in 1987.

City Councilwoman Marsha McLean urged the council to do more than send letters opposing AB 2715.

“I think we need to start really fighting this attempt to take away our ability to decide how we want to vote,” she said, calling for Santa Clarita to take a leadership role on the issue with the League of California Cities. “They’ve been very silent on the issue,” she said.

The council passed both its motion to oppose the districting bill and the ordinance to change the city’s election date to November.

The switch in vote dates was the second time the council approved the measure, which required two votes because it is an ordinance change.

The date change was part of an agreement worked out with plaintiffs who brought the Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the city, Sulphur Springs School District and College of the Canyons.

While Sulphur Springs settled and moved to break itself into districts, Santa Clarita put up a fight.

In March, saying it recognized the high cost of a legal battle, it announced a settlement with the plaintiffs that involves changing the city election date, as well as considering a “cumulative voting method.”

Cumulative voting, which is not practiced in any California general-law city allows each voter to cast multiple votes for a single candidate, depending on the number of seats open.

For example, in the April 8 City Council election, when three seats were open, one voter could vote three times for a single candidate under cumulative voting.

College of the Canyons has announced no settlement in the lawsuit brought against it.

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