The City of Santa Monica has filed new paperwork in an attempt to allow current councilmembers to retain their positions while the City appeals its recent loss in a voting rights case.
Judge Yvette Palazuelos previously ordered new elections be held in July and that current councilmembers would have to vacate their seats by Aug. 15. The City’s appeal of that decision automatically delays the election but the order to vacate was reaffirmed by Palazuelos last week. The City’s attorneys filed a new request with the state appellate court Friday asking a second judge to also halt the vacate order while the appeal proceeds.
Palazuelos ruled Feb. 15 that the City of Santa Monica’s at-large election system violates the CVRA because it suppresses the voting power of the Santa Monica’s Latino population. In addition to prohibiting councilmembers who were elected in at-large elections from serving past Aug. 15, she also ordered the City to hold a special election on July 2 to elect councilmembers according to a seven-district map drawn by the plaintiffs in the case, Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association.
The City appealed the final ruling last month, automatically staying the mandatory order to hold a special election until the appeal concludes. It is still unclear, however, whether the prohibitory order to vacate Council is also stayed. (It will be at least one year before oral arguments can be heard in appellate court, the City’s attorneys said.)
The City’s attorneys argued in the petition for writ they filed Friday that the prohibitory order is actually mandatory in effect because it coerces a change to the status quo and electoral process in Santa Monica. The order is therefore automatically stayed on appeal, wrote defense attorney Theodore Boutrous.
“This is indistinguishable from many other injunctions that the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal have found to be mandatory in effect,” Boutrous wrote. “It requires the City to strip its current Council members of their elected positions, scrap an at-large election system that has been in place for more than seven decades, and hold an election this summer under a brand-new, court-imposed district-based system.”
The petition asks the California 2nd District Court of Appeal to confirm the order is mandatory and automatically stayed. Alternatively, if the court finds the order is prohibitory, the petition asks it to issue a stay anyway.
“This Court should exercise its discretion to stay the (order) during the appeal to avoid irreparable harm to the City, its Council members, and the public,” Boutrous wrote. “Among other things, the enforcement of (the order) could leave the City without any governing body for some period of time.”
The City requested the court either issue a decision on its petition by Apr. 1, the date when Council would need to pass a resolution calling for a special election in late July, or extend the Aug. 15 deadline. If the court does not reply to the petition by Apr. 1, the City would be forced to notice a district-based election in early April, Boutrous said.
A special election would cost almost $1 million, according to the petition.