(Simi Valley, Ca) Simi Valley may be moving to election districts after a letter was sent to the city by a local advocacy group requesting the change.
On August 6, 2018, the City received a letter from attorney Kevin J. Shenkman, on behalf of his client, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, requesting that the City move to district-based elections. Mr. Shenkman is well-known for threatening litigation against numerous cities if those cities refuse to change from an at-large voting system to a by-district voting system.
Currently, Simi Valley has four Council Members and a Mayor, all elected at-large, for a total of five Council Members. On August 13, 2018, due to the threat of litigation as set forth in the letter, the matter was placed on the City Council closed session agenda, however by a unanimous vote, the City Council decided to not have discussion in closed session and to place the entire matter in open session for consideration at the next Council meeting, which was on August 27.
Background to District-Based Elections
Over the past two years, over forty California cities that had conducted their city council elections by means of an “at-large” election system have received letters threatening to sue their city for alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act (Cal. Election Code (EC) Sections 14025-
14032) (“CVRA”), unless those cities voluntarily transitioned to a “district-based” election system.
In addition to cities, many school, community college and health care districts have received these CVRA letters. Other groups or attorneys similarly have targeted public entities in the northern part of the State.
The CVRA only applies to jurisdictions (including the City of Simi Valley) that utilize an “at-large” election method, where voters of the entire jurisdiction elect the members of the City Council.
The threshold to establish liability under the CVRA is extremely low, and prevailing CVRA plaintiffs are guaranteed to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs.
Every government that has challenged the forced transition to district-based elections has either lost in court or agreed by way of settlement to implement district- based elections, and has been forced to pay at least some portion of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.
Several cities that had extensively litigated CVRA cases have been forced to pay multi-million-dollar fee awards.
The law states, “Plaintiffs may challenge an “at large” voting system under the Federal Voting Rights Act 53 U.S.C. Section 10301 et seq. (“FVRA”). Plaintiffs must show that:
(1) a minority group be sufficiently large and geographically compact to form a majority of eligible voters in a single-member district;
(2) there is racially polarized voting; and
(3) there is majority -bloc voting sufficient usually to prevent minority voters from electing candidates of their choice.
Opposition to District Based Elections
Opponents of districting have sent in information which the city shared at its August 27 meeting. Darlene Galluzo, a local disability advocate, stated the following:
“I am not able to attend tonight’s council meeting but I would like you to know that I am opposed to Any changes to the structure of our city council or the way we choose our council members. I have lived in Simi Valley for 55 years and the system we have in place has served our city well for almost 50 years and I resent an outside group coming in and making threats of a lawsuit.
I know in 2002 The California Voting Rights Act was passed and signed into law by recalled governor Gray Davis and any court action could cost our city a lot of money. This law is only concerned about making sure California continues to be democratic and they will use this song and dance that minorities are not equality represented. Bunk Bunk Bunk It is a free country and anyone who is a citizen can run for office. It’s all about Latino’s not being represented. Well you know what I belong to a true under represented minority I am a disabled American. Is my minority represented on the council? I don’t know for sure because some disabilities can not be seen. But you know what I don’t care. I don’t cast my vote based on a candidates minority status but on their ideas and what they can bring to our city. Please don’t bow to pressure and threats from this group. Please check out this website www.ndcresources.com for information on this issue.
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