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Santa Monica Mayor Discusses City's Appeal in Voting Rights Suit

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

February 25, 2019 -- The day after the City Council voted unanimously to appeal a Superior Court decision that the City of Santa Monica had violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), Mayor Gleam Davis shared her views with The Lookout.

One of the key reasons the City appealed Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos' ruling ordering the City to switch to district-based elections, is that districts would divide a united city, the mayor said Friday.

"Santa Monica is a very small City, 8.3 square miles, but we are a united and strong community," Davis said.

She pointed to the dysfunctional state of national politics, where representatives are primarily interested in currying the favor of their constituents.

"The dysfunction at the national level is people are not cooperating," Davis said. "They are more concerned about what people will do in their districts.

"They are afraid of being primaried out. Their actions are dictated by being re-elected."

Creating a Pico District won't improve the chances of a Latino being elected to the Council, which for years has worked to improve the neighborhood, Davis said.

"The majority of the Latinos in Santa Monica don't live in the Pico Neighborhood," she said.

"When you talk to people in the Pico Neighborhood, they feel very grateful. They feel they have been fully represented."

Davis also doesn't believe districts will level the playing field by diminishing the influence of money or special interest groups.

"It's a myth that districts are going to take money out of the elections," Davis said.

Special interest groups, she said, "will endorse candidates in each district and spend money within each district.

"The money will still flow."

Well-funded campaigns will still have an advantage under the seven proposed districts of approximately 13,000 residents each.

That's because it would be impossible to reach constituents only by knocking on doors, since many voters live in gated apartment buildings or homes.

Davis criticized the process that led to the judge's order to hold a special election July 2 using a district map presented by the plaintiffs ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

The City, Davis said, had no time to launch the public process it would take to draw a map.

She noted that the judge first ordered the City to hold all future elections using a map drawn by the plaintiffs' demographer that only showed the Pico District ("Judge Bars Elections Under Santa Monica's Current At-Large System," December 14, 2018).

Two weeks later, she ordered a special election under the seven districts proposed by the plaintiffs ("Judge Orders City to Use Plaintiffs' Map for Special Council Election," January 2, 2019).

"There wasn't an opportunity to do" what the law requires, Davis said.

The City, she said, would only embark on the process of drawing a District map after all the appeals have been exhausted.

"If I'm suing someone, you wait until there is a ruling," Davis said.

"During the time this litigation is pending, we believe we have the better argument," she said. "There was no need to draw a map."

Davis believes the City will win the appeal, which will be decided by a panel of three judges in appellate court.

Judge Palazuelos, she said, adopted the plaintiffs proposed remedy "almost verbatim," which is "unusual."

"She didn't even edit out key wording" to update it for the final ruling, Davis said

The appellate court, she said, will place much more weight on the factual statements made in written arguments than on oral arguments, which each party will have only 30 minutes to make.

"We have very strong arguments on questions of law," Davis said. "The appellate court has more leeway.

"We think some of the factual statements (made by the plaintiffs) are not supported and in fact are contradicted" by the law," she said.

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