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Lancaster mayor joins lawsuit against Palmdale

Posted: January 28, 2013 5:30 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2013 5:30 p.m.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris has signed on as co-counsel for a voting rights lawsuit brought against his city’s high-desert neighbor Palmdale, he announced Monday.

Though the lawsuit he is joining alleges at-large city council elections in Palmdale deny minorities an equal vote — and Lancaster uses the same at-large city council election system as Palmdale — the flamboyant attorney says the city just to the south is in violation of voting rights laws, and his own city isn’t.

The lawsuit, filed last April by Palmdale resident Juan Jauregui, is scheduled for trial in May. It alleges Palmdale violated the California Voting Rights Act by using an election format that dilutes the influence of minority voters.

Both cities — and Santa Clarita, as well — employ at-large voting for city council, which means all residents have a say in selecting all council members, rather than residents casing votes by districts. The system usually employs a city manager, rather than an elected mayor, and is favored by both mid-sized and small cities throughout California.

The California Voting Rights Act has been used to sue several cities over at-large elections since it was adopted in 2002. One was Modesto, which switched to district voting as a result.

Parris, who grew up in Palmdale and has a high school there named for him, claimed his hometown’s method of electing City Council members is keeping black and Hispanic candidates out of office.

“Despite a Latino population of approximately 54.4 percent and an African-American population of 14.8 percent in the city of Palmdale, only one Latino and not a single African-American has ever been elected to Palmdale’s City Council,” Parris said in a statement.

Parris said the Lancaster City Council, of which he is a member, has a Hispanic member and had a black member, whom he replaced.

He also indicated during an interview there is no love lost between Lancaster and Palmdale, calling the latter a neighboring city, not a sister city.

“To say it’s our sister city might imply that we’re friends,” he added with a laugh.

Palmdale City Attorney William Matthew Ditzhazy said his city believes residents should decide how they want to elect their local officials. When Palmdale put the issue to a vote in 2001, he said, residents favored the at-large system.

“While perhaps not true in every community, in Palmdale the citizens tell the City Council what is best for them, not the other way around,” Ditzhazy said.

The two municipalities north of the Santa Clarita Valley have competed for years to attract business while promoting themselves as desirable places to live and sometimes exchanging barbs.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.



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