The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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League of Women Voters Dishonors Its Great Traditions

By Paul DeSantis

On August 1, 2001, the Board of Directors of the Santa Monica-Malibu League of Women Voters, without following the required League procedures of submitting the measure to membership study and consensus, took the unusual step of opposing VERITAS, a petition being circulated calling for district based electoral reform in Santa Monica. The Board released a lengthy but ill-founded justification to make sure that its opposition got wide publicity.

The Board erroneously claims that VERITAS will change the residency requirement for Mayor and council candidates by reducing it to 30 days from two years and thus "newcomers to Santa Monica could run for office or be appointed to the Council with very little knowledge of the city." True, perhaps knowledge may be limited with only a 30 day residency, but the 30 day requirement has been California law for 26 years. (See Johnson v. Hamilton, a California decision dating back to 1975.) As confirmed by the Santa Monica City Attorney's official summary, VERITAS does not change California's residency requirement in any way. Surely at least one of the 15 Board members should have known a basic 26 year-old election law, or have taken the time to look up the residency requirement before jumping to publically oppose VERITAS.

The Board also erroneously charged that VERITAS violates California's one-subject rule. Yes, VERITAS does have various components: the direct election of the Mayor, the division of Council seats into seven districts, and term limits. Under California law these are considered to be only "one subject" because they all deal with electoral reform and accountability. (See Senate v. Jones, a California Supreme Court decision issued December 13, 1999 which held that: "The single subject provision does not require that each of the provisions of a measure effectively interlock in a functional relationship.... It is enough that the various provisions are reasonably related to a common theme or purpose." (Please see our website, yesonveritas.org, where the VERITAS petition's Findings and Declarations detailing the common theme are fully set forth.)

Strangely, the Board never cited nor discussed Senate v. Jones in its press releases. Once again, apparently none of the Board members knew California's election law on the one-subject rule nor bothered to look it up. Instead, the Board members loudly proclaimed their negative, erroneous position, (and their own ignorance of election laws) in the apparent belief that by trading on the League's good name the community would accept the Board's position on blind faith.

Santa Monica's at-large electoral system has largely failed to produce successful candidates from our predominantly minority and poorer areas. It also allows candidates to win office with as few as twelve to thirteen thousand votes (out of an electorate of over fifty-seven thousand). The SM League has long decried as unjust and undemocratic these failures of our at-large electoral system. Yet the current Board did not disclose the SM League's own long support for reform but instead criticizes VERITAS authors for taking it upon themselves to propose changes the "multitude and the magnitude" of which "require thoughtful public discussion and input before being presented to the citizens in a petition."

Indeed thoughtful study and discussion are imperative principles which the Board should have followed before it denounced VERITAS. On the other hand, VERITAS supporters did follow these principles. As soon as the 1990 US Census data were available, long-time SMRR activist, the late Herman Rosenstein and many others sponsored countless meetings and received much input from community dialogue including the contributions of many members of the League. (Copies of numerous notices, newspaper articles, etc. are available.)

Out of this process came the 1992 petition which was submitted to the Council. VERITAS, the 2001 electoral reform petition, retains the same 1992 neighborhood districts and sets forth an open community process to update the district lines when new Census data become available in 2002, 2012, 2022, etc. Indeed, the Santa Monica League, under the leadership of, among others, the late former Mayor Christine Reed, had a position dating back almost three decades of supporting electoral districts.

Instead of just obdurately opposing district elections, it would be more valuable to the public discourse -- and more honest -- if the present Board explained exactly what has happened in Santa Monica that justifies the current Board's 180 degree change away from the League's historic position.

Perhaps the current League Board also would like to explain why it is planning "in cooperation with the City of Santa Monica" a meeting on "Alternative Voting Systems" for local elections. The agenda excludes consideration of geographically (neighborhood) based districts and will not explore the reasons minorities and the economically disadvantaged consistently have been under represented in our at-large electoral system.

In light of the current Board's shockingly inept criticism of VERITAS election reform movement, it may come as no surprise that the current Board appears willing to jeopardize further the League's good name by wedding the League to a city government which currently is in court trying to invalidate another important electoral reform, i.e., the recently passed "Conflict of Interest" measure that was overwhelming supported by 59 percent of the voters in Santa Monica and which has been implemented in other communities.

Previously, League leaders diligently studied all points of view and kept their distance from elected politicians. In contrast, the current League Board chose to shut out election reform views which threaten the powerful Council majority's entrenched incumbents. VERITAS supporters were given no notice of this League/City meeting, no opportunity to present information, and no opportunity to respond to issues raised by the Board. In appreciation for keeping VERITAS out of the League/City discussion on election reform, the Council majority has authorized tax payer dollars to pay for the League/City activities and authorized the use of a city facility for the event.

Our past SM League leaders built up a good name through countless years of dedication, hard work, open, fair discussions, and through strictly maintaining the League's independence by keeping a safe distance from City Hall. When previous League leaders issued press releases, the public could count on careful research and study, thoughtful analysis, and accurate facts. On August 1, 2001, these great Santa Monica League of Women Voters traditions were shamefully dishonored.

Attorney Paul DeSantis is an author and sponsor of VERITAS.


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