The judge held a hearing on Dec. 7 to discuss her tentative ruling that found the City’s at large election system violates the rights of minority residents. Her initial ruling was just a few sentences long and while the City had asked for an extensive explanation of her reasoning, the Friday hearing was limited to both sides reiterating positions previously outlined in written arguments.
Attorneys for the City have said they plan to appeal if the tentative ruling stands. However, they are requesting the judge allow the City hold a community input process to draw election districts if the ruling that Santa Monica’s at-large election system discriminates against Latino voters stands on appeal.
At a Friday court discussion, the City’s attorneys said the state’s election code states that if a court orders a change in a city’s election system, the city should solicit public input to decide on new districts in a 120-day process.
“It would be a democratic process inclusive of all communities,” said City attorney Theodore Boutrous.
Attorneys for plaintiff Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association said they think the City is trying to delay changing the election system. They have argued that Judge Yvette Palazuelos should issue a prohibitory injunction to prevent the City from holding at-large elections as quickly as possible.
The plaintiff also released a map of the proposed districts that they are hoping will inform Judge Palazuelos’ decision. The Plaintiff map divides the City into seven districts. It adjusts the borders of the existing neighborhoods but eliminates the existing Mid-City Neighborhood in favor of a new Downtown district.
“Latino voters of Santa Monica will continue to wait for their voting rights,” said Plaintiff’s attorney Kevin Shenkman. “We know what’s happening. Many (City) Councilmembers live in the same district and will fight this because they want to stay in power.”
Boutrous maintained that the City is not trying to delay the transition to a district-based system and is only trying to ensure that transition makes room for the democratic process.
“California law requires citizens be able to give input in the process of changing election systems,” Boutrous said.
Attorneys for the plaintiff said the California Voting Rights Act directs the court, not the defendant, to implement appropriate remedies to illegal election systems.
Oscar de la Torre, the plaintiff’s husband and an outspoken proponent of district-based elections, said he does not want the City to direct the process of drawing districts because he believes it will marginalize minority voices even if it solicits public input.
City Attorney Lane Dilg said the court will think about the City’s request.
“We are pleased that the court gave serious consideration to and hope that it will adopt the City’s argument that any district map must be drawn through the democratic public process required by the California Elections Code,” she said in a statement. “That process will provide all Santa Monica residents the opportunity to weigh in on the important issue of how any required districts should be drawn.”