Plaintiff Maria Loya led a protest in March 2019 to urge the city to rethink its planned appeal of the CVRA case. (File photo)

A crowd of more than 70 protestors gathered around City Hall Tuesday night and filled Council chambers to let officials know they want to “Stop the Appeal.”

Protestors were upset with the City’s decision to appeal a recent ruling in a California Voting Rights case that would move future elections to a district-based system. Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued a tentative ruling in the Plaintiff’s favor and will issue a final judgement sometime after a hearing on Dec. 7. Attorney’s for the City have said they plan to appeal.

Plaintiffs Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association sued the City of Santa Monica in 2016, alleging its at-large voting system dilutes Latino/a voting power by denying them proper representation, a violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

Loya, who was joined by her husband Oscar de la Torre, said Tuesday night that she was upset that the City would appeal the decision in an attempt to preserve an at-large election system Loya said prevented people of color from being elected. She added she thinks the City is wasting $10 million battling the lawsuit.

“What could the city have done with that? They’re telling us they don’t have money to keep our parks safe, no money to help residents, but they sure have money to protect their own interests and to protect their staff and cronies,” Loya said. “We’re here tonight to send a message that we don’t want an appeal.”

De la Torre said he was there to support his wife and help residents challenge a government he feels is out of touch.

“When we see tourists get more attention than residents, something is wrong. When we see developers and hotels get more preference than renters, something is wrong,” he said. “When the City dumps a freeway and City dump in our neighborhood, something is wrong.”

De la Torre added he believes electing City Councilmembers by district will give residents more of a voice.

“We’ll have a government that will represent us at the neighborhood level. Someone accessible, someone you can run into at the grocery store and talk to,” he said. “We have a system now where we have a council member who lives in Pico and knows he doesn’t need the neighborhood for votes. That’s not right.”

De la Torre said he thinks City Hall could be decentralized with neighborhood offices that could provide residents with services.

“We envision council members with staff so any issues you have get support and attention at a neighborhood level,” he said.

Loya and De la Torre then led the crowd into a City Hall meeting. Protestors overwhelmed the room, filling up seats and lining walls while a fire marshal cleared people from walkways and doorways.

Residents queued up to voice their displeasure with the appeal during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

Mayor Ted Winterer eventually read a prepared statement defending the City’s position, saying a district-based system would balkanize the community. This immediately drew jeers from the audience, who walked outside during the Mayor’s statement.

De la Torre said he disagreed with Winterer, and believes district-based elections will build unity in the city’s communities.

“That’s sad to hear from the Mayor,” he told the crowd. “[District -based elections] will give voice to the voiceless. We’ll have people from different parts of the city and they’ll get together and talk about issues.”

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