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YEAR'S TOP STORIES: PART I -- 2018 Could Change the Course of Santa Monica Politics


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December 18, 2018 -- Santa Monica politics may never be the same after 2018. A voting rights lawsuit could pave the way for City Council Districts and a voter-approved initiative will restrict council members to three terms.

For only the third time in a quarter century, a Council member lost a bid for re-election, and for what is likely the first time, another Council member will step down after being elected to a statewide seat.

Here are the Lookout's top political stories of 2018.

Judge Rules Against City in Voting Rights Case

Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos' ruling last month that the City had violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was a major victory for the Latino plaintiffs -- but the decision was only preliminary ("EXTRA!!! Plaintiffs Win Voting Rights Suit Against the City of Santa Monica," November 13, 2018).

The City plans to file an appeal, and that could take years to conclude ("City Plans to Appeal Decision in Voting Rights Case," November 13, 2018).

But if the ruling stands, Santa Monica would be forced to replace its at-large election system with Council Districts that could make it easier for grassroots candidates to win without the backing of special interests in a City with more than 60,000 voters.

Last month, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the judge to adopt seven council districts and hold a special election in April ("Plaintiffs in Voting Rights Suit Propose District Map, April Election," November 20, 2018).

The map the plaintiffs submitted would radically change the make-up of the council by placing three council members in one district, while leaving three districts without current representation ("Proposed Santa Monica Council Map Places Three Incumbents in One District," November 26, 2018).

The City quickly opposed the map and told the court there is no appropriate remedy and no need for the judge to impose one before a planned appeal becomes final ("City Says No Remedy Needed in Voting Rights Case," December 3, 2018).

This month Palazuelos issued an amended tentative ruling barring any Council elections under Santa Monica's current at-large system and requiring that all future elections be district-based ("Judge Bars Elections Under Santa Monica's Current At-Large System," December 14, 2018)

She is expected to render a final decision next month, though its impact could take years to determine.

Union Facts on Possible Local 11 Strike

Voters Mandate Council Term Limits

While district elections in Santa Monica are far from certain, term limits are now the law.

On November 6, Santa Monica voters granted overwhelming approval to restrict a Councilmember's tenure to 12 years ("Term Limits' Landslide Win Sends Strong Message, Sponsor Says," November 9, 2018).

That's half the term some recent council members have served in a post that is sometimes, literally, lifelong.

Mayor Gleam Davis and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day both wre appointed to the Council when Herb Katz and Ken Genser died in office in January 2009 and February 2010 respectively.

In 2014, former Mayor Bob Holbrook retired after serving 24 years on the Council, and Pam O'Connor also served 24 years before losing her November bid for a record seventh term.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown was re-elected last month to a sixth four -- year term.

Rare Defeat of Council Incumbent

O'Connor's defeat marked only the third time since 1994 that a Council member lost a bid for re-election. The other two were Councilmember Tony Vazquez in 1994 and Mike Feinstein ten years later ("EXTRA O'Connor Out, Morena In; Term Limits Wins in Landslide," November 7, 2018).

Greg Morena finished third in a race for three council seats that was the least competitive in at least 30 years ("Santa Monica City Council Ballot Thinnest in Decades," August 20, 2018).

Sue Himmelrich, a slow growth advocate and the only Council member to support term limits, finished first, ousting McKeown from the top spot for the first time since 2006.

But another Council seat will open up next month when Vazquez steps down to assume the seat on the State Board of Equalization he won on November 6 ("EXTRA Vazquez to Step Down from Council Seat," November 28, 2018).

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