City Council is holding a special meeting Thursday to discuss a court ruling that found the City of Santa Monica’s election system discriminated against its Latino population.

Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued a final ruling in the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) case against the City Friday, ordering that future City Council elections will be determined by a seven-district map drawn by the plaintiffs in the case, Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA).

Palazuelos said the City must hold a special election to elect a new City Council on July 2 because the current Council won their seats in an illegal election system. Each of the seven districts will elect one councilmember.

The ruling said Latino residents have preferred Latino candidates, but those candidates have typically lost and only one Latino won a Council seat before the plaintiffs sued the City. Palazuelos said moving to a district-based election system would address that issue because Santa Monica’s Latino population clusters in certain neighborhoods.

The City may appeal the ruling in California’s appellate courts, said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., one of the lawyers representing the City. Council will discuss the case with the City’s lawyers on Thursday in a session closed to the public before hearing public comment.

“We cannot comment specifically on what may be discussed in closed session. As demonstrated at prior City Council meetings, however, the public has shown significant interest in this litigation,” said City spokesperson Constance Farrell. “Accordingly, we wanted to remind everyone that at the special meeting this Thursday, just as at other regularly scheduled Council meetings, public comment is welcome should members of the public wish to express any views to the Council.”

The City did not say whether it would appeal the ruling or if it was preparing for a July 2 special election.

Councilmember Greg Morena, who was elected last November, said he encourages residents to attend the public comment portion of the special meeting to discuss the case. He said he feels that using a district map drawn by the plaintiffs to determine elections would undermine the democratic process.

“If people want to change things, you can … get signatures and put it on the ballot. We just did it with (Measure TL),” Morena said. “If people want to see things changed, let’s do it in a way that includes everybody. The judge took all the information and the map from the plaintiffs and ruled based on that. Where’s the public process? Where does everyone else get a voice?”

Councilman Tony Vazquez recently left the council after winning a seat on the state Board of Equalization. Ana Maria Jara, was appointed last month to fill his vacant seat.

District-based elections have not improved Latino representation in other cities, Morena said. 15 California cities with Latino populations of less than 30 percent have switched to districts and none elected Latino representatives in 2018, he said.

“That’s a staggering statistic,” Morena said. “Who are we serving here?”

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  1. I have two comments on the judge’s ruling.

    I do not understand why the judge would allow the plaintiffs to determine district boundaries for the entire city. There must be State regulations for this. Wouldn’t representatives from the entire City need to have input, or impanel an impartial group? This is what the State did to minimize gerrymandering when they redistricted.

    Second, the expense of running a special election is outrageous, for the City and for the candidates. Why can’t the City wait until the next regular election cycle, and impose the new district rules then? July 2 is hardly enough time to thoughtfully plan new district boundaries that might last for generations.

    These are not details, these issues are central to making the new policy work for everyone.

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