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County Committee Rejects Trustee Voting Areas for School District


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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Malibu parents submitted the petition. The petition was also signed by Santa Monica parents. Also, a new law changing the criteria for creating maps kicked in on January 1, 2024, not 2022.

March 7, 2024 -- A plan to divide the School District into trustee voting areas fell through on Wednesday after the County Committee in charge of redistricting shot down the map presented by proponents.

The LA County Committee on School District Organization voted 9 to 1 to reject the map, which accompanied a plan submitted in November 2021 by Santa Monica and Malibu parents to change how School Board members are elected.

Under its recently modified procedures, the Committee elected to focus the initial hearings on the map -- which splits Malibu into two of the seven proposed districts -- and take up the petition only if the map was approved.

In voting to reject the map, the Committee closely followed staff's recommendations, finding that "because the City of Malibu could be kept whole as a single trustee area," the map failed to comply with the Elections Code.

Staff also found that the map violated the Code by intending to target School Board incumbents and by enhancing the voting power of Malibu residents, who are not members of a protected class under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).

"Additionally, the County Committee must consider the proposal as submitted and cannot alter the proposal to substitute a map different than what the voters approved when they signed the petition," staff wrote in a report to the Committee.

Wednesday's hearing was delayed after the School District and the City of Santa Monica filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in March 2022 challenging the constitutionality of a newly implemented State law that allowed the County to create districts without voter approval.

Malibu Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who led the petition drive, noted that the map was submitted before a law kicked in on January 1, 2024 changing the criteria for creating maps. The redistricting efforts, he said, will move forward with a new map.

"It is not a matter of if the District has trustee areas," Shenkman said after the hearing. "It is a matter of when and how. Maybe not for this (School Board) election, but the next."

Shenkman said that the Committee, some of whose members indicated or implied support for redistricting, could "itself move SMMUSD to trustee elections" without a petition being submitted.

Proponents also could submit a new petition with the required number of valid signatures of voters in the District, about 500, along with a newly drawn map.

"There are advantage and disadvantages to going the County Committee route," Shenkman said.

The committee could follow once again what staff recommends and "complicate it more," he said, making it "less and less of an attractive option."

Proponents of districting also could file a voting rights lawsuit petitioning a judge to mandate trustee voting areas. Shenkman said he "could give the County Committee time" and if it doesn't act, file a lawsuit.

The School District expected to issue a press release with comments on the hearing, but it was delayed by the School Board meeting, officials said.

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