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Top Voting Demographics Expert Advised City, Activists on Santa Monica Redistricting


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Editor's note:This article was updated Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. to include a statement from the City.

August 28, 2018 -- An expert in California voting demographics authored a report for Santa Monica officials and also advised neighborhood activists on redistricting during a voting rights lawsuit against the City.

The City Attorney's chief of staff George Cardona testified Tuesday that Karin MacDonald, a census expert at UC Berkeley, conducted a study for the City after the lawsuit was filed, according to plaintiff attorney Kevin Shenkman.

MacDonald would later advise two neighborhood activists who support the cause of the Latino plaintiffs on how Santa Monica could be redistricted, according to a document filed with the court.

Plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit claim MacDonald's report warned the City Council before it embarked on the expensive lawsuit that there was a pattern of polarized voting in Santa Monica

Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos, however, found that the report, which was commissioned shortly after the lawsuit was filed in April 2016, was a work product covered by attorney client privileges, Shenkman said.

But the findings, he said, can be inferred by the City's refusal to make the report public.

"We know by implication what the report said," Shenkman told the Lookout. "If the report were favorable to the City, Karin MacDonald would be testifying."

In a statement to The Loookout, City officials said they have complied with their discovery obligations.

"Analysis by a consultant who is not designated a testifying expert is protected from disclosure in litigation," City officials said in a statement.

"Plaintiffs’ repeated recitation of their own speculation about work product by such a consulting expert does not make that speculation true."

The existence of the report first surfaced two weeks ago in a deposition given by Council member Tony Vazquez ("Study Surfaces That Could Aid Plaintiffs in Voting Rights Case Against City," August 13, 2018).

Defense attorneys objected when Vazquez was asked in his deposition if he knew the source of the report. He responded that he did not recall the name.

It is not the first time in the trial that MacDonald, a census expert at the University of California-Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies, becomes a focus in the trial.

Last week, MacDonald's name surfaced in a much different capacity during testimony given by community activist Tricia Crane.

According to Crane's declaration, she and Santa Monica resident Taffy Patton met with MacDonald in Berkeley in January when they thought the City would settle the lawsuit over its at-large election system.

"(We) understood that the result of the case might be the adoption of district elections," said Crane, a leader of Northeast Neighbors.

"We were interested in assuring that our neighborhood associations were involved in the process of mapping districts."

MacDonald invited the two neighborhood activists to use her mapping software and "remarked to me that she doesn't understand why Santa Monica would spend money to resist district elections," Crane said in her declaration.

MacDonald also commented Cal-Tech professor Dr. Morgan Kousser, an expert for the plaintiffs, "could show that Santa Monica's elections exhibit racially polarized voting."

Crane said she was surprised to learn in the press recently that MacDonald had been hired by the City before their meeting to conduct a districting study..

"I had no idea she had already consulted with the City," Crane told the Lookout.

Crane said she called MacDonald and told her she was a witness in the case.

"She said that she thought it was 'great,'" Crane wrote in her declaration.

"I then asked her whether the study she reportedly conducted for the City of Santa Monica favored district elections," Crane wrote.

"Ms. MacDonald did not respond."


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