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Leader of State Democratic Party's African American Caucus Urges Santa Monica to Stop Fighting Voting Rights Lawsuit
By Niki Cervantes
December 13, 2017 – The head of the African American Caucus of the California Democratic Party is urging the City of Santa Monica to halt its fight against Voting Rights litigation filed on behalf of the Latino population, saying the City Council needs to align itself with “progressive values and the law.”
The letter from Darren W. Parker, chair of the caucus, urges the City to voluntarily adopt a by-district system that divides Santa Monica into several districts, with candidates for council running depending on where they live.
Santa Monica, Parker said, should “avoid the horrible mistake made by the decision makers in Palmdale,” who were also sued on allegations of violating the voting rights of minorities, fought it all the way to California’s Supreme Court and lost.
Palmdale, where Parker resides, spent an estimated $7 million and, in the end, was required to accept a new voting system with individual voting districts which were formulated by the plaintiffs.
“Santa Monica does not have to follow the path laid out by Palmdale, though Santa Monica seems to be on that course -- even having had its legal arguments already rejected by the Los Angeles Superior Court, Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court,” Parker wrote.
“There is a better way,” Parker said in the letter, which was released by Kevin Shenkman, the attorney who filed suit against Palmdale in 2012 and did the same with the City of Santa Monica in April of 2016. “Voluntarily change the election system to be more fair to minorities.”
Minority groups contend at-large districts -- which treat the entire city as a single voting district -- dilute the voting power of minorities and require costly campaigns they often can’t afford.
Santa Monica officials argue that at-large voting enhances the influence of minorities by making the entire council -- which was expanded from three to seven members in 1946 -- accountable to all voters.
The City also argues that voters have re-affirmed at-large voting twice, in 1975 and 2002, and that the plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence of injury or facts showing Latino-preferred candidates would have won office under an alternative electoral system.
Voting Rights lawsuits have been filed throughout California in recent years by Shenkman and others, seeking to replace the at-large voting method used by most small to mid-sized municipalities with by-district systems ("City of Santa Monica the “One Hold Out” in Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says," May 18, 2017).
In his letter, Parker also said Santa Monica is acting in opposition to the progressive, left-leaning ideas of which it often boasts by continuing to fight the Voting Rights litigation against it.
Council members “should be able to look past their perceived self-interests and finally bring the city’s election system into conformity with those progressive values and the law,” he said.
The Los Angeles County Democratic Party and California Democratic Party have officially endorsed district elections throughout California, Parker said.
Santa Monica’s lawsuit was filed by the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) and Maria Loya, a Latina activist and Pico Neighborhood resident who unsuccessfully ran for the Council in 2004 ("Santa Monica Facing Lawsuit Over At-Large Council Elections," April 13, 2016).
After several delays, the suit is headed back to Superior Court next summer.
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