February 22, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

‘They Were Powerless to Stop the City’: Plaintiffs in Voting Rights Case File Brief

Pico Neighborhood Association files brief asking appeals Court to uphold district election ruling

By Sam Catanzaro

Plaintiffs in a voting rights case against the City of Santa Monica have filed a brief reiterating their argument that the city’s at-large election system dilutes the voting power of Latino residents, asking an appeals court to uphold an earlier ruling calling for district elections.

“The evidence showed that meaningful Latino candidates are overwhelmingly preferred by Latino voters, yet Latino candidates almost always lose,” wrote plaintiff attorney Kevin Shenkman in an 82-page brief filed last month. “This lack of representation for Latinos, who are 16% of the city’s population and most concentrated in the city’s Pico neighborhood, meant they were powerless to stop the city from dissecting their community with a freeway and turning their home into the city’s toxic waste and trash dump site.”

The plaintiffs, the Pico Neighborhood Association, filed the brief on December 27 in response to an opening brief filed by the City of Santa Monica in October in which defense attorney Theodore Boutrous argued that district elections actually decrease the voting power of Latino voters.

“Over 70 years ago, prominent civil-rights leaders in Santa Monica urged the City to adopt its current at-large method of electing its seven-member Council—which expanded minority voting strength over the prior system. In the last quarter century of elections, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that Latino voters’ preferred candidates have won Council seats the majority of the time, even though Latinos make up only 13.6% of the City’s voting population,” reads the city’s brief.

The case, Pico Neighborhood Association, et al. v. City of Santa Monica, filed by plaintiffs Pico Neighborhood Association, Maria Loya and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools alleges that Santa Monica’s at-large election system dilutes Latino voting power in violation of the CVRA and discriminates against Latino voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

On March 27, 2019, the Second Appellate District of the Court of Appeal of the State of California issued a stay on a special election when they said that current members of Santa Monica City Council can legally serve during the duration of the city’s appeal.

Both the plaintiffs and the defense will give oral arguments in the next phase of the appeal.

Under an expedited schedule requested by the City of Santa Monica, the court will make its final ruling by July 10, 2020, to allow time to prepare for potential districts.

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