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Santa Monica Has Two Latino Council Members, City Officials Contend

 
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By Jorge Casuso

July 10, 2017 -- Those who think Tony Vazquez is the only Latino ever to serve on the Santa Monica City Council are being asked to reconsider that commonly accepted notion.

In a voting Rights lawsuit against the City, officials are arguing there have been two Latinos on the Council, and both are currently sitting on the dais.

The issue came up during a meeting Thursday of the North of Montana Neighborhood Association (NOMA) when Council member Gleam Davis was asked when she discovered her Latino heritage.
Picture of Gleam Davis

“I have always known since I was born that I was adopted and that my mother said I was Mexican," Davis told the crowd, according to a transcript from the meeting.

"It’s not something talked about a lot, although I never hid it either," Davis said. "I’ve mentioned it to many people throughout the City in the thirty years I’ve lived here."

Gleam Davis (Photos Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Davis' Latino heritage has been argued about behind closed doors as part of a voters rights lawsuit filed by former City Council candidate Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), which represents Santa Monica's largest minority area.

The plaintiffs contend the City of Santa Monica’s at-large elections system was meant to prevent candidates from non-Anglo sections of the city from winning representation on the City Council ("Judge Orders Voting Rights Lawsuit Against City of Santa Monica to Move Forward," June 14, 2017).

Vazquez, who was first elected to the Council in 1990, has been Santa Monica's sole Council member, the plaintiffs contend.

But in depositions, City officials have pointed to Davis to counter that claim.

At the neighborhood meeting last week, Davis, who was adopted, said she has known about her Latino ancestry since she was a little girl.

"My mother told me when I was three years old and she characterized it as an Irish woman and a Mexican gentleman and they were not married and she had to give the child up for adoption," Davis said.

Her genetic background was confirmed when she was contacted via an internet heritage site by one of the three other sisters who share the same biological parents, Davis said.

"We found that our father was from the Jalisco area and my birth mother was raised in Chile," she said. "According to Ancestry.com I am approximately 50 percent (Latino)."
Picture of Tony VazquezTony Vazquez

The argument has failed to sway the attorney for the plaintiffs, Kevin Shenkman, who insists that Vazquez is the only Latino to serve on the council.

"In my mind, cultural and ethic identity means more than (genetic makeup)," Shenkman told The Lookout. "I think it makes little or no difference if Gleam Davis suddenly started identifying herself as Latina."

During depositions, Shenkman said, Davis acknowledged she always identified herself as white, "even in the height of affirmative action" when there were benefits to being categorized as a minority.

Shenkman said he is conducting a poll he is confident will show that the vast majority of Santa Monica registered voters identify Davis as white.

Santa Monica is the "one hold out" among the dozens of cities targeted under the California Voting Rights Act, which is meant to usher in more minority representation on the City Council, Shenkman has said ("City of Santa Monica the 'One Hold Out' in
Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says,"
May 18, 2017).

At the neighborhood meeting, Shenkman said the staus quo at City Hall would persist unless at-large elections are replaced with district electionss.

"What currently matters in this city is that you get the endorsements of SMRR, the unions and the developers," Shenkman said. "That's all that matters. (At-large elections) make the election so expensive it is prohibitive to a large group of people to run for office."

Davis, who canceled her scheduled debate with Shenkman at the NOMA meeting on advice of the City Attorney, briefly responded.

"The City is contesting the lawsuit," she said, according to the transcript. "We believe the balkanization of voting in Santa Monica would not be good for the residents.”

The lawsuit was expected to go to trial in October, but the trial date has been pushed back to July 2018, Shenkman said.

Shenkman said he is confident a decision will be handed dawn before next year's council elections and, if the plaintiffs prevail, plans to file an injunction if the City proceeds with the election.

 


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