SANTA MONICA—The city of Santa Monica filed a motion seeking summary judgment in its favor in a lawsuit challenging Santa Monica’s use of at-large elections for City Council positions on Thursday, March 29.
In the filing, the city explains how the lawsuit fails as a matter of law and undisputed facts, because the at-large election system that plaintiffs challenge under the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) and the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution has not caused any dilution of Latino/a voting strength in Santa Monica. Santa Monica’s Latino/a voters can and do exercise their full voting power to elect the City Council candidates they prefer.
According to a press release from the city of Santa Monica website, at-large elections have been in place in Santa Monica for over 100 years, and voters have affirmed twice the at-large election system—in 1975 (rejecting failed Proposition 3) and in 2002 (rejecting failed Measure HH).
Santa Monica’s motion defending the election system is supported by an expert declaration establishing that Latino/a voters (who represent approximately 13 percent of the voting population based on the most recent census data) reside in Santa Monica, in various neighborhoods and it is impossible to create a Latino/a-majority district in Santa Monica, and that the creation of any district designed to concentrate Latino/a voters would have the opposite result — segregating the majority of Latino/a voters outside of that district. The city’s motion explains that:
-Latino/a candidates have been successful in elections for all of the City’s governing bodies over the past several election cycles;
-Though Latino/as account for just over one-eighth of the City’s population, they hold roughly one-fifth of the City’s elective offices; and,
-Two of the seven current members of the City Council (28.5 percent of the City Council), are ethnically Latino/a.
The city’s motion argues that application of certain provisions of the CVRA to Santa Monica would result in the drawing of race-based voting districts without sufficient justification in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Pico Neighborhood Association (“PNA”) and Maria Loya, a 2004 City Council candidate (where she came in seventh place). She also ran for the Santa Monica Board of Trustees in 2014 where she came in sixth place. Ms. Loya’s husband, Oscar de la Torre, was elected several times at-large to be a Board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. He was identified by plaintiffs as a representative of PNA in this case.
The Motion states:
“To prevail on their California Voting Rights Act claim, plaintiffs must prove, among other things, that vote dilution caused by the City’s at-large electoral system. Plaintiffs must therefore demonstrate that some permissible electoral scheme other than the City’s current system would enhance Latino voting power. But expert demographic analysis confirms that plaintiffs cannot do so, because no constitutionally or statutorily permissible remedy could enhance Latino voting strength. Absent proof of vote dilution, there is no constitutional basis on which to supply any remedy at all, much less a race-conscious one. Governments are authorized to separate persons into voting districts predominantly on the basis of race only when they have a compelling interest in doing so, and only where their actions are specifically and narrowly tailored to further their legitimate purposes.”
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for June 14, 2018. If the court grants the city of Santa Monica’s motion, it will end the lawsuit. If the court denies the motion, the case will proceed to trial where Santa Monica is expected to introduce additional evidence to demonstrate that plaintiffs’ claims are without merit.