Future City Council elections in the City of Santa Monica will be determined by a seven-district map after the judge in the voting rights lawsuit altered her earlier ruling.

In December, Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued an amended tentative ruling, siding with Plaintiffs Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) that the City’s at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). At that time she ordered the city to discontinue at-large elections and adopt a district based system but she only mandated the borders for a Pico neighborhood district.

In a hearing on Jan. 02, Palazuelos changed her initial ruling altering the borders of the initial Pico district slightly and adding borders for six other districts. The now seven-district map is identical to one presented by the Plaintiffs during the trial.

“We are deeply concerned by the change in the court’s tentative ruling this morning,” said City Attorney Lane Dilg in a statement. “Latino-preferred candidates have been elected the vast majority of the time under the City’s at-large election system, and no court has ever ordered a City with similar demographics to move to a district-based system.  Moreover, evidence at trial showed that the plaintiffs’ proposed seven-district map was drawn behind closed doors by a hired expert for the plaintiffs with input from only a small number of residents and would likely diminish rather than enhance Latino/a voting power in Santa Monica.”

Dilg said the California Elections Code mandates a public participation process for establishing districts and adopting the districts proposed by the Plaintiffs would deprive residents of that input.

Palazuelos also said a special election should be held with the new districts but she did not provide a timeline.

Attorneys for the City have sent a lengthy list of questions to the judge regarding her ruling and Palazuelos has ordered attorneys for the Plaintiffs to draft a statement of decision justifying her decision. That document is now due on Jan. 3. Once issued, the City has 15 days to file objections and the judge can issue her final ruling anytime thereafter.

City officials have maintained they plan to appeal if the final ruling sides with the Plaintiffs, however, they say no decision on an appeal can be made until a final ruling has been issued.

The Plaintiffs have long objected to the idea of an appeal, saying the cost is an unfair burden to taxpayers.

“The gross mismanagement of public dollars on this case should be a major concern for our residents and considering that no City has ever been successful in defending itself from a CVRA claim makes this case the biggest deliberate waste of tax dollars in our City’s history,” said PNA Spokesperson and plaintiff Oscar de la Torre.

He said the City should have received better legal advice when deciding whether to fight the case.

“This will require that our City Attorney be elected by the residents instead of being controlled by an establishment more concerned with maintaining their privilege and position at any cost,” he said.

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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3 Comments

  1. Right on Oscar… but I am afraid that even with good legal advice.. they would still continue to fight this.. funny….you’d think with all the money this City spends on our City Attorney that we would have someone principled and not ‘for sale’…. guess not. Don’t these people have any conscience? Guess not again..

  2. Long past time our City Attorney, City Manager and City Clerk were elected and not appointed by the City Council.
    Residents have zero recourse with all three appointed to do the Council’s bidding and disregard the residents and often the law itself.

  3. These scumbags will continue to throw away our money on lawyers and cronies, the way they’ve been doing for years.

    Any Santa Monican with integrity and the best interests of the populace at heart will cheer when these criminals are hauled from the council chambers.

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