Council Districts CVRA Litigation

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BACKGROUND

On December 6, 2016, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2303 which moved the City’s municipal elections from November of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years.  That ordinance became effective on February 7, 2017, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved consolidating the City’s municipal elections with the County’s general elections commencing in November 2018. 

On January 17, 2017, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2310, to change from an at-large election system to a by-district election system, with five districts and a rotating mayor.  The boundaries of the five City Council districts are to be determined in accordance with State law. 

On February 21, 2017, the City Council approved a settlement agreement in the matter known as Sanchez v. City of West Covina, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC634674 (“CVRA Lawsuit”), which includes requirements for selection of a districting consultant, selection of district boundaries and sequencing of elections.  The first amendment to the settlement agreement may also be viewed here.

On May 2, 2017, the City Council awarded a contract to National Demographics Corporation to provide election district consulting services in an amount not to exceed $33,000 and directed staff to create a Community Participation Plan.  In addition, the City Council also directed staff to schedule public hearings to initiate the district boundaries mapping process.

CALIFORNIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT LAWSUITS ACROSS THE STATE

Over the last several years, cities throughout California have been served warning letters and lawsuits regarding alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  To date, NO City has successfully defended the right to maintain At-Large electoral voting of those cities or public agencies that have been challenged with a CVRA lawsuit.  Several cities have spent millions of dollars in attorney’s fees; only to lose the case and be made to pay the Plaintiffs Legal Fees as well.  A few of the more significant cases include:

  • December, 2015 – Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) sends similar demand letter to City of Placentia.
  • December, 2015 –City of Anaheim receives similar letter from MALDEF
  • May, 2015 - the City of Palmdale ordered to pay $4.5 million, plus interest for attorney’s fees to three groups after settling a multi-year litigation. Some reports have indicated this full cost to be upwards of $7 million to the city.
  • July, 2015 – the City of Fullerton settled pending litigation with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Law Office of Robert Rubin and Sidley Austin LLP. Fullerton will begin the process of the formation of electoral Districts with the November 2016 election.
  • September, 2014 – the lawsuit against the City of Whittier, filed in 2013 is dismissed due to April 2014 elections in which residents Voted in favor of electoral Districts. However, plaintiff attorneys have indicated they plan to appeal or continue suit in order for City to move elections to November.
  • July, 2014 – a lawsuit was filed by three law firms, R. Rex Parris, Shenkman & Hughes and Law Office of Milton C. Grimes against the City of Highland.  Residents rejected the ballot measure for District representation; voting No to this Measure, in January, 2016 a judge denied the City of Highland’s request to increase to a seven-seat Council, or switch to cumulative voting as a viable option to avoid lawsuit. The City must move to Council Districts.
  • The Antelope Valley News published this chart of Voting Rights Cases in California and Settlement Costs, last updated in May 2015 - Chart Link

NEXT STEP

At the June 6, 2017, City Council meeting, the City Council will consider approval of a Community Participation Plan outlining the various methods for stakeholder outreach and community engagement in the creation of City Council District boundaries for District Elections.  Interested parties may subscribe to e-notification alerts at the following link: E-Notification Page.  E-notification subscribers will receive emails regarding upcoming community meetings and public hearings related to the creation of City Council Districts.

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