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By Jorge Casuso
February 15, 2019 -- In her final ruling, the judge in the voting rights lawsuit against the City has ordered a special district-based election on July 2 for all seven council seats.
Candidates not elected through district-based elections "are prohibited from serving" after August 15, according to the ruling issued Wednesday and received by both parties on Friday.
"The current members of the Santa Monica City Council were elected through unlawful elections," Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos wrote.
"The residents of the City of Santa Monica deserve to have a lawfully elected city council as soon as is practical.
"The residents of the City of Santa Monica are entitled to have a council that truly represents all members of the community," the judge wrote.
The final ruling echoes Palazuelos' preliminary ruling ordering that all future Council elections be held under a district map proposed by the Latino plaintiffs ("Judge Orders City to Use Plaintiffs' Map for Special Council Election," January 2, 2019).
The City -- which throughout the case has insisted it has not violated the law and did not submit a remedy -- is expected to appeal the ruling.
“The court’s final ruling will actually hurt minority voting rights," said a statement from Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, one of the lawyers representing the City.
"The evidence at trial clearly demonstrated that moving to a district system in Santa Monica will dilute the voting power of Latinos and other minorities citywide," Boutrous wrote.
"Recent studies have also shown that in most instances, California cities that have transitioned to district elections have seen no appreciable increase in the number of seats held by minorities.
"As we have said from the outset, this case presents significant legal issues of first impression that California’s appellate courts will need to resolve," Boutrous said. "The City is now considering all options, including an appeal.”
In her 13-page ruling, Palazuelos said the Plaintiffs' demonstrated that 'racially—polarized voting' has led to only 1 Latino among the 71 Council members who have been elected over the past 72 years.
"Plaintiffs have demonstrated that elections in Santa Monica, namely elections for Defendant's city council involving at least one Latino candidate, are consistently and significantly characterized by 'racially—polarized voting' as that term is defined in California Elections Code Section 14026," Plazuelos wrote.
"Analyzing elections over the past twenty—four years, a consistent pattern of racially-polarized voting emerges. In most elections where the choice is available, Latino voters strongly prefer a Latino candidate running for Defendant's city council, but, despite that support, the preferred Latino candidate loses.
"As a result, though Latino candidates are generally preferred by the Latino electorate in Santa Monica, only one Latino has been elected to the Santa Monica City Council in the 72 years of the current election system -- 1 out of 71 to serve on the city council," Plazuelos wrote.
The plaintiffs' "are entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, including expert witness fees and expenses," according to the ruling.
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