The petition, which would see the School District split into seven districts, is among the first filed in LA County under a new state law giving control to county education boards to create trustee voting areas.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE)’s Committee on School District Organization will soon be taking up a petition that would break up the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) into seven separate voting districts, after proponents from both cities filed a petition with LACOE in January.

The LACOE committee briefly addressed the local petition during its Wednesday, Feb. 2, meeting, saying it was among the first of an anticipated flood of similar petitions.

The petition, which was first filed in November and subsequently rejected by LACOE, was re-submitted in early January and will now trigger a public hearing and study. Committee staff said the petition was initially rejected due to its timing; the petition is permitted under a new state law, SB 442, that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

As previously reported in the Daily Press, SB 442 outlines new processes for creating voting districts, which includes a pathway for districts to be formed without a public vote; rather, petitioners may appeal directly to their county board of education — in Santa Monica’s case, that’s LACOE.

“This bill would authorize the county committee, by resolution, to approve a proposal to establish trustee areas and elect governing board members using district-based elections without submitting the resolution to the electors of the district for approval,” SB 442 states. “The bill would require such a resolution to include a declaration that the change in the method of electing members of the governing board is being made in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.”

The bill appears designed to speed up the process of initiating district-based elections by circumventing a public vote to approve new districts.

Attorney Fredric Woocher, representing the SMMUSD, told the Committee that the petition did not represent the will of the people of Santa Monica.

“This is a petition that would authorize the Committee to compel the use of trustee areas in a School District that is provided for in the city charter over the objection of the School District and the voters of that City who have, in their city charter, stated that the District shall be at-large — and to do so without a vote of the people,” Woocher said, calling SB 442 unconstitutional.

Malibu resident Wade Major spoke in support of by-district voting, saying “deep-pocketed special interests” in the City of Santa Monica had controlled the District for too long.

The November petition suggested dividing the two noncontiguous cities that make up the SMMUSD into seven districts, with western Malibu sharing a district with Sunset Park and eastern Malibu sharing a district with an area west of Wilshire, between 7th Street and 14th Street.

“I just wanted to alert the committee that we will have many of these petitions coming soon, and some of them are under very tight timelines given the implementation of new census data and the way they have to conclude their process in time for the [LA County] Registrar-Recorder to set their elections with the new trustee areas,” LACOE Regionalized Business Services Coordinator Allison Deegan said, mentioning that the anticipated flood of districting requests could result in the necessity for additional meetings over the next few months.

“There’s going to be a rash of these petitions coming forward to the committee,” Committee Chairperson Frank Ogaz said, warning fellow committee members that they could be holding multiple hearings per night. Board Member Charles Davis said he would be willing to attend multiple meetings per week to get through them within the timeframe required by the State of California.