Court Issues Amended Tentative Decision in CVRA Trial

December 14, 2018

Court Issues Amended Tentative Decision in CVRA Trial

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – City Attorney Lane Dilg released the following statement in response to the court’s first amended tentative decision issued today in the case of Pico Neighborhood Association, et al., v. City of Santa Monica:  

“We are pleased that the first amended tentative decision appears to reject the plaintiffs’ request to replace the City’s at-large election system – adopted by the voters in 1946 and twice affirmed by the voters at the polls – with a seven-district map drawn by the plaintiffs’ hired expert without opportunity for public input.  The City continues to believe that the evidence at trial showed that its electoral system is fair and inclusive.  Latino representation on the Santa Monica City Council exceeds the citizen voting age population in our community and Latino-preferred candidates have been elected to the Santa Monica City Council over seventy percent of the time under the current electoral system.  We look forward to reviewing the statement of decision to be issued by the court, and we are pleased that the court appears to have affirmed that any district-based system imposed in Santa Monica will be drawn with a Pico Neighborhood district as set forth by the court but with public hearings and a full opportunity for community input with respect to other districts.” 

About the Ruling

Today the court issued a first amended tentative decision in the case.  The amended tentative ruling orders the City to cease holding City Council elections under the current at-large election system and requires that any future City Council elections be district-based and held in accordance with a map depicting a Pico Neighborhood district.   

Case Background

In April 2016,  plaintiffs Pico Neighborhood Association, Maria Loya, and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools filed a complaint in the California Superior Court alleging that Santa Monica’s at-large election system dilutes Latino/a voting power in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and discriminates against Latino/a voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution. 

Santa Monica has had at-large elections since 1915.  The current at-large election system was adopted by the voters in 1946, with broad support from prominent minority members of the community. The system been affirmed twice by the voters at the polls since.  With this at-large system in place, Santa Monica has a history of electing people of color, including Latino/as, to a variety of local positions. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the City had a Mexican-American Mayor.  Our City Council has had at least one Latino/a member since 2012, and Latino/as and African-Americans have been elected to positions on the City Council, Rent Control Board, SMMUSD Board, and Community College Board.  In fact, without district-based elections, Latino/as, who make up approximately 13% of Santa Monica voters, hold at least 1 out of 7 (14%) of the City Council seats and 4 out of 19 (21%) of the City’s other elected positions on the Rent Control, SMMUSD, and Community College Boards.  The evidence at trial further showed that under the at-large election system, between 2002 and 2016, candidates preferred by Latino/a voters won at least 70% of the time in Santa Monica city council races and over 80% of the time in at-large elections for the SMMUSD, SMC, and Rent Control Boards that Plaintiffs claimed involved “racially polarized” voting.

The City contends that evidence presented at trial did not support plaintiffs’ claims that a move to districts would generate better outcomes for Latino/a voters in Santa Monica.  No district can be drawn in Santa Monica that has more than 30 percent Latino voters – far from a majority – and no court adjudicating a vote-dilution claim has ever ordered the creation of districts where the citizen-voting-age population of the relevant minority group in the purportedly remedial district would be this low.  A district system would prevent Latino/a residents from organizing together across neighborhoods, as they can in the at-large system.  In Santa Monica, approximately 2/3 of Latino/a residents live outside of the plaintiffs’ proposed Pico district.  In a seven-district system, these Latino/a voters would be in districts with overwhelmingly white majorities.

On November 8, 2018, the court issued a tentative ruling for the plaintiffs.  The court’s tentative ruling contained no explanation of the Court’s ruling.  The City has requested a statement of decision explaining the basis for the tentative ruling, which the Court has ordered the plaintiffs to draft.    

The City still hopes to convince the court to change its tentative decision and rule in the City’s favor, as plaintiffs’ claims lack merit and the evidence at trial demonstrates that Santa Monica’s at-large election system for City Council members is fair and inclusive and does not dilute Latino/a voting power.

Additional information about the case can be found here: www.santamonica.gov/Election-Litigation-PNA-V-Santa-Monica-FAQ  

  

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