As Santa Monica’s City Council prepares to swear in new members and choose a mayor, its political future hangs in the balance.
The city recently lost a lawsuit alleging its at-large election system is illegal under the California Voting Rights Act. Now, city leaders anxiously await the official decision by Judge Yvette Palazuelos that will determine whether the city will have to immediately draw voting districts and hold a special election.
In November, plaintiffs Oscar de la Torre and his wife, Maria Loya, held a protest outside city hall to urge the council to drop its appeal. Their lawyers have presented a proposed map of voting districts to the judge.
“I’m here to urge you to do the right thing…and not appeal,” Loya told the current city council as protesters overtook city hall.
The city maintains that its current election system, wherein candidates must win city-wide, is fair and has vowed to appeal. In the meantime, lawyers for the city argue voters should have a say in the map of potential districts.
“We are pleased that the court gave serious consideration to and hope that it will adopt the city’s argument that any district map must be drawn through the democratic public process required by the California Elections Code,” said City Attorney Land Dilg.
“That process will provide all Santa Monica residents the opportunity to weigh in on the important issue of how any required districts should be drawn.”
There has been only one Latino city council member elected by voters since the city adopted its election system in 1946. Latinos make up approximately 13 percent of voters in Santa Monica.
Dozens of California cities have changed to district-based elections after facing potential lawsuits using the CVRA. The last city to go to trial over the issue, Palmdale, lost and had to pay opposing legal counsel $4.5 million.
It held its first district-based elections in Nov. 2016.