City Council Meeting: Under Legal Pressure, City Council Signals Intent to Switch to District Elections
Santa Clarita City Council Special Meeting, March 19, 2020, 4 p.m.
Put on notice by an attorney, “in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001,” the Santa Clarita City Council approves a resolution of intent to change to a district-based election system for future City Council elections.
RESOLUTION NO. _________
A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SANTA CLARITA DECLARING ITS INTENTION TO TRANSITION FROM AT-LARGE TO DISTRICT-BASED ELECTIONS FOR CITY COUNCIL PURSUANT TO ELECTIONS CODE SECTION 10010 AND GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 34886 EFFECTIVE FOR THE NOVEMBER 2020 GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION
WHEREAS, the City of Santa Clarita, California (“City”) is a general law city, duly organized under the Constitution and laws of the State of California; and
WHEREAS, the five members of the Santa Clarita City Council are currently elected in at-large elections, in which each City Council member is elected by all registered voters of the entire City; and
WHEREAS, the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Elections Code §§14025-14032) (“CVRA”) provides that its purpose is “to implement the guarantees of Section 7 of Article I and of Section 2 of Article II of the California Constitution”; and
WHEREAS, the City of Santa Clarita believes that its current electoral system is consistent with Section 7 of Article I and Section 2 of Article II of the California Constitution, and that a district-based electoral system is also consistent with these provisions; and
WHEREAS, the CVRA applies to jurisdictions that use an at-large method of election; and
WHEREAS, numerous California cities, including in Los Angeles County, have been sued under the CVRA to force those cities to abandon their at-large electoral systems, and implement a by-district electoral system; and
WHEREAS, the defense of litigation under the CVRA is extremely expensive and those cities that have lost in court have also lost substantial control over the districting process within their cities. Further, even if the city were to prevail in defense of an action, a successful defense would not prevent a different plaintiff from suing the city under the CVRA in the future; and
WHEREAS, the CVRA mandates that prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees and expenses, including expert witness fees, from a defendant city, and even defendant cities that have settled CVRA lawsuits in the early stages of litigation are mandated to pay plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and expenses, which typically have been substantial, and WHEREAS, on February 7, 2020, the City received a letter from Scott Rafferty, demanding that the City switch to election by districts for the 2020 election pursuant to Elections Code 10010; and
WHEREAS, California Government Code Section 34886 authorizes the legislative body of a city to adopt an ordinance, without voter approval, to change its method of election from “at-large” to “district-based” in which each council member is elected only by the voters residing in the district in which the candidate resides; and
WHEREAS, Section 34886 authorizes such a change “in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) of Division 14 of the Elections Code)”; and
WHEREAS, numerous cities and special districts throughout the state and in Los Angeles County have moved from an at-large electoral system to a by-district electoral system for members of their governing bodies; and
WHEREAS, the City intends to make this transition from an at -large system to a by-district system in accordance with the procedural rules outlined in Government Code Section 34886 and Elections Code section 10010.
NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Santa Clarita, California, hereby resolves as follows:
SECTION 1. Intention to Switch to Election by Districts.
A. The foregoing recitals are true and correct.
B. The City Council shall consider an ordinance to change to a district-based election system for use in the City’s General Municipal Election for City Council Members beginning in November 2020, in accordance with Elections Code section 10010 and Government Code section 34886, and other applicable law.
C. The City Council directs staff to work with a qualified demographer, and other appropriate consultants as needed, to provide a detailed analysis of the City’s current demographics and any other information or data necessary to prepare a draft map that divides the City into voting districts in a manner consistent with the intent and purpose of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
D. The City Council approves the tentative timeline set forth in Exhibit A, attached to and made a part of this resolution, for conducting a public process to solicit public input on proposed district-based electoral maps before adopting any such map.
E. The City Council directs staff to instruct the demographic consultant to prepare for City Council review at the appropriate time proposals for districting plans with five districts pursuant to Government Code §§ 35871(b) and 34886.
F. The City Council directs staff to undertake public outreach and to inform the residents of Santa Clarita of this resolution and the districting process, and to facilitate and encourage public participation, to the extent permitted by the current Covid-19 corona virus pandemic, as well as publish notice of the public hearings identified in the attached Exhibit A.
G. The timeline contained in Exhibit A may be adjusted as deemed necessary, provided that such adjustments shall not prevent the City from complying with the time frames specified by Election Code Section 10010, to the extent permitted by the current Covid-19 corona virus pandemic.
SECTION 2. The City Clerk shall certify to the adoption of this resolution.
PASSED, APPROVED AND ADOPTED this _______ day of March, 2020
CAMERON SMYTH, MAYOR
MARY CUSICK, CITY CLERK