If the City of Santa Monica were to lose its appeals of the recent voting rights verdict, City Hall would prefer districts over other election changes according to a recent filing with the court.

In a Friday court filing, the City said it strongly believes the case will be overturned on appeal and again outlined its belief that the California Voting Rights Act suit brought by Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association was not valid. A judge issued a tentative ruling in the Plaintiff’s favor last month and has scheduled a court date on Dec. 7 to provide more details regarding possible changes to the current at large system.

The Plaintiffs have proposed shifting the city from at-large representation to a seven district map and have said they think the judge should order a special election in early 2019. In its response, the City said no election should be ordered while an appeal works its way through the system but in the event the final ruling sides with Plaintiffs, City Hall would choose districts over other kinds of changes to its voting system. However, the attorneys for the city said the district map should be drawn via a public process, not by the Plaintiff’s attorneys. “The City believes that the evidence presented at trial shows that the City’s election system is fair, inclusive and fully complies with California law,” City Attorney Lane Dilg said in a statement.  “If, however, an ultimate determination is made that the City’s longstanding at-large system is unlawful, the Court should not just adopt the district map presented by plaintiffs at trial without public input, but instead should order the City to undertake a democratic process — open to the public — to determine, subject to judicial review, where district lines should be drawn.”

According to the filing, the City has three points supporting its right to determine its own districts. Attorneys argue the City’s standing as a charter city gives it authority over its own municipal affairs, communities have a right to determine their own borders for districts and California Law requires the City to be given an opportunity to propose districts.

“The Court should not confirm its tentative decision finding in favor of plaintiffs,” said the brief. “If it does so, and concludes that a district-based remedy can constitutionally be imposed, then the Court should order the City to propose a districting plan within 120 days (providing time to permit compliance with the Elections Code requirements for public input) after a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs becomes final following the exhaustion of appellate rights, such that a new election could be held at the soonest practicable date under the Elections Code.”

While the city has said it plans to appeal any ruling in the Plaintiff’s favor, no appeal can be filed until the tentative ruling is made final sometime after the Dec. 7 hearing.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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