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Santa Clarita Questions Legality Of Voting Rights Lawsuit Settlement

Santa Clarita Questions Legality Of Voting Rights Lawsuit Settlement

Santa Clarita officials questioned the legality of their own settlement in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit in a briefing filed this week.

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The filing is a result of Santa Clarita officials’ uncertainty over whether their agreed-upon settlement is legal and feasible, said Joe Montes, Santa Clarita city attorney.

Plaintiffs in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against Santa Clarita

“If cumulative voting is not permitted and we’re not allowed to change the election date, then the parties will have to confer again as to how the matter will proceed,” Montes said. “It could mean that the litigation resumes, it could mean settlement talks could have to resume — that’s just too far off to speculate at this point.”

An attorney for plaintiffs, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, called the city’s stance “bizarre,” and questioned why Santa Clarita city officials would authorize a settlement and then question its legality.

“The CVRA gives the power to courts to find appropriate remedies for a California Voting Rights Act violation,” said Kevin Shenkman, who’s representing the plaintiffs. “In a lot of ways, the city would prefer to do cumulative voting (as opposed to district-based elections), so (the brief) doesn’t make any sense.”

Related: Santa Clarita Officials Discuss California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit

An appellate court found that the legal system has broad discretion in providing a remedy to a CVRA violation in a similar case against Palmdale.

“The city doesn’t want to remedy the dilution of the Hispanic vote in Santa Clarita, which has occurred over the last couple of decades,” Shenkman said. “They’d rather argue that what they’ve agreed to do is illegal in hopes that they somehow can continue diluting the Hispanic vote in Santa Clarita in violation of the California Votin Rights Act.”

The two plaintiffs sued Santa Clarita, as well as the Santa Clarita Community College District and the Sulphur Springs School District, last June.

The lawsuits claim Hispanic voters’ rights are being violated by at-large elections, which result in racially polarized voting and deny Hispanic voters the opportunity to select their candidate of choice.

All three parties have settled the lawsuits to similar ends: The Sulphur Springs School District is moving to districts; the Santa Clarita Community College District will move to cumulative voting, move its election to November and adopt districts when a majority Hispanic district can be created, as well as other remedies; and the city of Santa Clarita agreed to move its election to November and adopt cumulative voting.

In a filing dated July 15, Santa Clarita officials question whether they have the right to change their electoral system to a cumulative voting one because Santa Clarita is a “general law city,” which, they argue, is explicitly directed as to how elections are to be held.

The brief essentially claims the city has no right to change its means of electing officials, a claim directly challenged in a brief by Shenkman.

In their meetings with Los Angeles County officials, Santa Clarita was made aware of the possibility that county resources might not be able to handle cumulative voting, Montes said.

This was one of the conditions of the lawsuit’s settlement, he added.

An official with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder’s Office was not available for comment as of this story’s publication.

Related: 4 Santa Clarita Valley School Districts Sent Letters On Voting Rights Act

Shortly after the last of three local lawsuits were settled, four Santa Clarita Valley school districts were hit with letters threatening a lawsuit if a remedy to alleged CVRA violations is not discussed.

The Hart district was already planning to look at district-based elections, officials said, and the Newhall School District is looking at a remedy that includes cumulative voting and even-year elections in November.

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Santa Clarita Questions Legality Of Voting Rights Lawsuit Settlement

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About Perry Smith

Perry Smith is a print and broadcast journalist who has won several awards for his focused, hyperlocal community coverage in several different regions of the country. In addition to five years of experience covering the Santa Clarita Valley, Smith, a San Fernando Valley native, has worked in newspapers and news websites in Los Angeles, the Northwest, the Central Valley and the South, before coming to KHTS in 2012. To contact Smith, email him at