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Eyes on 11 Whistleblower

Santa Monica Councilmembers' Political Futures Could be Shaped by Thursday's Vote

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

February 20, 2019 -- When the City Council votes Thursday on whether to appeal the voting rights lawsuit against the City, the decision could help determine some of the members' political futures.

Under the map Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos ordered the City to use for a district-based election, three of the Council members on the dais would be ousted if they remain in their designated districts.

The map places Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich in the same northside district predominantly composed of homeowners.

Councilmembers Terry O'Day and Ana Jara reside in the designated Pico District ("Proposed Santa Monica Council Map Places Three Incumbents in One District," November 26, 2018).

In her ruling last Wednesday, Palazuelos said that the map drawn for the Latino plaintiffs by demographer David Ely "properly takes into consideration" key factors, including that the seven districts "be nearly equal in population."

The map also properly takes into consideration "topography, geography and communities of interest" and is "cohesive, contiguous and compact," Palazuelos wrote.

The districts are not favorable to incumbants, nor should they be, the judge said.

"Districts drawn to remedy a violation of the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) should not be drawn to protect current incumbents," Palazuelos wrote citing the California Constitution.

"Incumbency protection is generally disfavored in California."

To remedy the findings that the City had violated the CVRA and deliberately discriminated against Latino voters, the judge ordered the City to hold a district-based election by July 2 for all seven council seats.

She also prohibited council members not elected under districts from serving after August 15 ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

As it did throughout the case, defense attorneys argued that no remedy was needed since the City did not violate the law ("City Says No Remedy Needed in Voting Rights Case," December 3, 2018).

In the City's closing brief, its attorneys from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP argued that the Court should give the City 120 days "from the date the judgment becomes final (with appellate rights exhausted)" to propose a districting plan.

California law, the attorneys wrote, "requires that the City be given the opportunity to propose a districting plan, after soliciting broad public input.

"This sequence is mandatory not just in caases where a would-be defendant voluntarily elects to adopt districts to avoid suit, but also in cases where a court has ordered a switch to districts," the attorneys wrote.

The plaintiff's map -- which was drawn by demographer David Ely -- carves the 8.3-square-mile City of some 92,000 into seven districts with approximately 13,000 residents each.

There are no Councilmembers living in three of the districts.

On the eve of Thursday's vote, several council members spoke out against the switch to districts.

It is expected the Council will vote at Thursday's special City Council meeting to appeal the Superior Court's decision.

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