Voters cast their ballots at City Hall during an election. (File photo)

By Josefina Aranda Santiago

On Tuesday January 22, Ana Maria Jara – long-time resident of the Pico neighborhood, born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as a child – became Santa Monica’s first Latina City Councilmember.  

By Wednesday January 23, Maria Loya, a plaintiff in a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica, publicly denounced and questioned newly appointed Councilmember Jara’s qualifications.  So much for a unified Latino community picking its candidate of choice in a post-CVRA (districted-against-itself) Santa Monica — which is the theory behind the CVRA case.

This wasn’t the first time Loya and co-plaintiff/husband Oscar de la Torre have opposed a Latina from the Pico neighborhood trying to join the City Council.  They organized against my 2002 City Council candidacy, costing me a key endorsement I needed to be elected. I was born in Santa Monica and lived in the Pico Neighborhood at a time when youth lives were being cut short due to youth violence.  Families that lived in the Pico Neighborhood for generations were being squeezed out. I thought we were banning together for our community. I was running for city council and de la Torre for school board. However, I had no idea they would intentionally block a key endorsement that would have afforded me the financial support, volunteers and allies needed for a successful election, as it afforded de la Torre for his run for school board.

Not only did de la Torre and Loya undermine my candidacy and the opportunity to have a strong Pico neighborhood voice at that time on the City Council, but their actions sent a message to the Pico neighborhood that only they decide who represents it.  Since then, no other Latinos from the Pico neighborhood except Loya and de la Torre have run for any elected position.  This is unfortunate because there are many forward-thinking leaders who would do a wonderful and impactful job.

It’s fair to have political differences in politics — and just because someone is Latino doesn’t mean they will agree with other Latinos on everything. But does that justify Loya, de la Torre and other PNA board members publicly criticizing Councilmember Jara the day after she was appointed?   

Loya dismisses Councilmember Jara’s historic appointment because Jara is ‘part of the establishment’, her appointment ‘was not about qualifications’; and she is ‘compromised and is expected to play a willing role of a rubber stamp at City Hall.’ These types of words cause great harm in a marginalized community.  They reflect an oppressive tactic often used by the dominant culture to dismiss people of color. But here they are being used against your own people who don’t agree with you. Presumably if you are a plaintiff in a Latino-oriented voting rights case for the right reasons, you would celebrate the occurrence of a Latina Councilmember before attacking the person.  The irony of this cannot go unmentioned. While the rest of the country is celebrating new diverse women assuming historic leadership positions in government, de la Torre and Loya are marginalizing it here at home because it conflicts with their political ambitions.

Councilmember Jara was a supporter of the work of de la Torre and Loya, including serving many years on the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) Board of Directors, which employed de la Torre as Executive Director.  Apparently, Councilmember Jara became part or the ‘establishment’ when she resigned from the PYFC Board due to her concerns about de la Torre’s accountability to the board and the City of Santa Monica.

How does this relate to Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya vs. the City of Santa Monica?  As plaintiffs, de la Torre and Loya want Santa Monica to be forced to draw a district that they believe gives one of them a chance of getting elected to the City Council – and they are using a legal voting rights argument that ‘Latinos don’t have enough voice under the current system’ in order to get it.  As is the case of the plaintiff’s in using my loss for City Council in 2002 as a reason for the need for districts. This after they undermined my 2002 campaign and oppose the appointment of Councilmember Jara today

What de La Torre and Loya are seeking in their lawsuit would actually be bad for Pico neighborhood residents. This is the result when you confuse your own political ambitions with a broader social cause.   Under de La Torre and Loya demands, only one council member out of seven would need votes from the Pico Neighborhood to be elected, and Pico Neighborhood residents would only be able to vote for one council member, instead of all seven like today. It is also a mistake to consider the Latino community as a political monolithic block (which undermines the lawsuit’s argument that Latinos in a Pico district are going to elect the Latino of their choice).   The CVRA suit unintentionally diminishes the Latino vote in Santa Monica rather than empower Latino voters since more than 50% of Latinos live outside the Pico neighborhood.

In this new era of “Trumpism”, we must be wary of individuals who are driven by blind ambition for power and apt to manufacture “alternative truths” to further their own self interests.  Santa Monicans rightfully should have concern whether their electoral system is fair. But I wanted to set the record straight so Santa Monicans are aware of the backstory and the political motivations behind the plaintiffs and their attacks against Councilmember Jara.  

It is our collective responsibility to remain vigilant in guarding the truth in order to achieve and sustain a cohesive community based on trust and respect – so is our duty to set the record straight.


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1 Comment

  1. Jara was the pick of the SMRR backed Council members and will be expected to toe the line and vote for what SMRR considers to be relevant left issues. Don’t expect her to be an independent voice. The picking of a SMRR approved candidate as a replacement was never in question and the choice of a Latino is just another last gasp attempt to reverse Santa Monica’s and SMRR’s losing position in the districting lawsuit. This column is another in the continuing attempts by SMRR to influence the outcome of the suit and smear de La Torre and his wife. I often don’t agree with de La Torre’s positions on matters but would welcome his voice on the Council and that will never happen until SMRR’s power is reduced in elections.

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