SANTA MONICA – The City of Santa Monica filed its reply brief on Tuesday, January 21 in the Pico Neighborhood Association & Maria Loya v. City of Santa Monica case. In April 2016, the Pico Neighborhood Association, Maria Loya, and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools filed a complaint in California Superior Court alleging that Santa Monica’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.
In July 2018, Maria Loya made a public statement via The Santa Monica Daily Press titled ‘CVRA Lawsuit Is Needed’ where she stated:
,” As a Latina mother raising two boys in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood, I filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica for violating the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and the California Equal Protection Clause. The reason for this is because Santa Monica maintains an at-large election system that works to dilute the vote of minorities with the intent to prevent candidates of color from winning a seat on the City Council. The Mayor and the City Council of Santa Monica would like the public to believe that the City is a homogenous community where no marginalization exists. The truth is that there is a long history of racial injustice against Mexican and Black residents in Santa Monica. As a person who has dedicated her life to pursuing social and economic justice, I have witnessed and experienced the marginalization that exists in Santa Monica. In an effort to secure a voice for Pico Neighborhood residents, I ran for City Council in 2004 and although I won every precinct in the Pico Neighborhood, I was unable to garner the necessary votes to win a seat on the City Council.”
After a bench trial ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2016, The City of Santa Monica appealed the court’s ruling alleging that its judgment lacks support in the law and the facts of the case. The City’s appeal asks the Court of Appeal to reverse the judgment and remand for further consideration by the trial court under proper legal principles, including that if any remedy is to be imposed, it must comply with the California Elections Code and allow public notice and hearings in the drawing of districts.
The reply brief states ,”Santa Monica’s electoral system is fair, open, and lawful. It has allowed Latino voters, despite their relatively small numbers, consistently to elect candidates of their choice. The trial court’s ruling to the contrary rests on numerous legal errors. The Court should reverse and enter judgment in favor of the City. Respondents attempted to convince this Court as they did the trial court to commit legal error by focusing only on certain Latino- surnamed candidates and disregarding the candidates and elections that do not fit their theory of the case.”
The City of Santa Monica stated that approximately two-thirds of Latino residents live outside of the plaintiffs’ proposed Pico district. Within a seven-district system, the City contented that Latino voters would be in districts with overwhelmingly white majorities and would be unable to organize together across neighborhoods as they could in the current at-large system.
At the time of trial, The City of Santa Monica presented evidence that the Latino population 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 presented at trial argued that by utilizing an at-large election system between 2002 and 2016, candidates preferred by Latino voters won the majority of the time in Santa Monica City Council election races that plaintiffs claimed involved racially polarized voting.
TIMELINE OF RULINGS:
- On November 8, 2018, the court issued a tentative ruling for the plaintiffs. The City requested a statement of decision explaining the basis for the tentative ruling, which the Court ordered the plaintiffs to draft.
- On January 3, 2019, the plaintiffs submitted their proposed statement of decision and proposed judgment.
- On February 15, 2019, the trial judge adopted with some minor changes the plaintiffs’ proposed statement of decision and proposed judgment, and issued them as its final judgment.
- On February 22, 2019, The City of Santa Monica filed its notice of appeal.
- On March 19, 2019, the California Court of Appeal granted the City’s petition for writ of supersedes and confirmed that the trial court’s order is stayed and will not take effect pending review by the Court of Appeal.
- On June 3, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking the trial court to award them over $21 million in attorneys’ fees and nearly $1 million in costs as prevailing parties. The trial court is scheduled to hear those motions in September 2020, after the Court decides this appeal.
- On October 18, 2019, The City filed its opening brief on setting forth the reasons they believe the judgment is incorrect as a matter of law.
The Court of Appeal has granted calendar preference to the case, such that a decision will be issued on or before July 10, 2020.