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Santa Paula voters face decision on council districts as new law looms

September 04, 2002
Santa Paula News

A new state law offers more clout to promote district-based elections, an issue facing Santa Paula voters on Nov. 5th when they decide whether or not to retain the city’s at-large method of City Council election or carve the city into five districts.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA new state law offers more clout to promote district-based elections, an issue facing Santa Paula voters on Nov. 5th when they decide whether or not to retain the city’s at-large method of City Council election or carve the city into five districts.The issue facing Santa Paula voters resulted from the U.S. Department of Justice filed in April 2001, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the Voting Rights Act and prevented Latinos from fair representation on the City Council. After a study showed that Latinos, who make up 71 percent of city population, have the majority vote in the city, the DOJ and city settled the lawsuit in August 2001 and agreed to let the voters decide.The new law, the California Voting Rights Act, takes effect Jan. 1, 2003, states that at-large elections cannot be imposed if they discriminate against the rights of certain protected classes of voters, such as Latinos, African-Americans and Asians, or other ethnic groups. SB 976, introduced by state Sen. Richard Polanco, allows the court to impose district-based elections to protect voting rights of those groups to elect the candidates of their choice.
The new law’s key point is that no at-large election can be imposed in a manner that dilutes the rights of members of a protected class to elect candidates of their choice.Other facets of the new law are that an intent to discriminate against a protected class is not required to establish a violation, a court can impose remedies including district-based elections and award plaintiffs reasonable attorney fees and expenses, and that defendants shall not recover any costs, unless the court finds the lawsuit to be frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.