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PART V -- Council Candidates Choose Sides in Voting Rights Lawsuit

 

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October 18, 2018 -- A Superior Court judge is expected to rule this month on a voting rights lawsuit against the City. Today City Council candidates weigh in.

City Hall is fighting a voting rights lawsuit that seeks to replace at-large elections with district elections. Do you support or oppose districts? Why?

SCOTT BELLOMO

I support the plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking district-based elections in the City of Santa Monica.

One has to wonder why City Council has spent more than $5 million in taxpayer dollars (and possibly another $4-5 million for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees if the plaintiffs prevail) to keep the existing at-large framework.

The only reason I can think of is that it threatens the incumbents’ lock on council seats. Career politicians are not healthy for a democracy.

SUE HIMMELRICH

I have not taken an official, public stance on the voting rights lawsuit and, as a sitting councilmember, cannot do so now.

KEVIN MCKEOWN

Santa Monica voters have twice rejected the idea of districts for our small city. Those were citywide votes, across all neighborhoods, and including all residents. How could the Council go against the twice-stated desire of the electorate to retain our at-large system?

Barnstorming attorneys came to town with a cookie-cutter lawsuit that has succeeded in other cities, and expected us to roll over. Sorry, but the issue of districts has been debated here before, at the ballot box, where it belongs, not in a courtroom.

As a Santa Monica voter, I oppose districts because I’d be able to affect only one Councilmember, not all seven -- and I’d get to vote only once every four years. Why willingly give up six of my votes, and the ability to vote every two years to respond more quickly to changes in what I think should be City priorities?

GREG MORENA

City Hall is fighting a voting rights lawsuit that seeks to replace at-large elections with district elections. Do you support or oppose districts? Why?

I oppose districts in a city as small as Santa Monica. Our diversity is spread throughout the city, meaning that districts won’t necessarily help any one group have a stronger voice at City Hall. Greater resident engagement and voter participation will help people of varying interests be heard.

GEOFF NERI

I oppose our city's refusal to settle the voting rights lawsuit and think it has been a vast waste of resources (almost $5 million) to fight that lawsuit.

At-large elections in Santa Monica have led to a permanently skewed representation on city council in favor of the wealthier, more homogenous neighborhoods of Santa Monica. In turn, at-large elections disenfranchise minorities and ensure that neighborhoods such as mine, Sunset Park, are underrepresented on city council.

More troubling still, the evidence presented in the voting rights lawsuit suggests that this was specifically the intention when the at-large elections system was initially put in place in 1946. District elections would ensure that our city counsel fairly reflects the overall ethnic, racial and socio-economic mix of residents living in Santa Monica.

PAM O'CONNOR

With Districts each voter would vote for one Council member every four years. With the current at-large system, voters get to vote for all seven Councilmembers over four years.

With Districts, the residents of the District would have one Council member who represents them. So, what if four of the seven district representatives decide they have more in common together than with the other districts? They could vote as a block to deploy the majority of the City’s resources to those four districts.

Each single representative of the other districts could scream about the lack of equity and inequality but to no avail -- they would be in the minority. The residents of those districts would have their own District representative but that representative would have no power or influence.

With the at-large system, each of the seven Council members is accountable to each voter, regardless of where the voter lives.

ASHLEY POWELL

I oppose districts for Santa Monica because (1) we don’t have racially polarized voting, (2) district elections require an expensive and politically divisive mapping process, and (3) districts will lead to Councilmembers who are less concerned with citywide issues.

Diverse legislative bodies, where all citizens are represented, make better decisions and govern better. But while I wholeheartedly support the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, it is unnecessary in Santa Monica where we do not have racially polarized voting.

It doesn’t matter what your skin color or ethnicity is, voters will consider candidates based upon their background, the issues they stand for, and whether they think a candidate will be responsive.

Our elections demonstrate this repeatedly with minority candidates winning citywide and with broad support across a racial/ethnic spectrum.

Money would be far better spent on the homeless, affordable housing, and social services than on district mapping. Therefore, I oppose district elections for Santa Monica.

 


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