Appeals Court Stays Summer District Election

by Paul Rosenstein, Former Mayor

A three-judge Appeals Court issued a stay of the lower court ruling that would have required City Council elections this summer – by districts (instead of the present at-large system). I believe the districting decision was undemocratic and a version of voter suppression.  

We used to have Spring elections, with a 10-15% voter turnout. After we voted to switch to November, turnout jumped to 60-80%, depending on the candidates and issues.    

State law says setting districts requires public community input, yet the judge picked lines drawn in secret by a small group. They “cleverly” gerrymandered boundaries, putting three incumbents in one district, while other neighborhoods were broken up.

Critics of the current council naively think they’ll get better representation voting for one councilmember every four years, instead of the seven we now elect. They assume we’ll select an effective person. Councilmembers will still have to persuade three others to vote their way. Inevitably we’ll see votes traded – “I’ll vote for what you want, if you vote for what I want” –  leading to decisions that won’t be best for the city overall. And if our councilmember is not effective, we must wait four years to elect someone else. 

Civil rights are important and many cities should change their voting system, but not Santa Monica. If we discriminated in voting, how have numerous people of color been elected to the school board and college trustees? In recent years, 30% of the council has been Latino. Two-thirds of Latino residents now live outside Pico. It’s no longer majority Latino. 

The Pico neighborhood has not been mistreated by the city, but what would prevent other districts from freezing Pico out by uniting to grab city resources?

To districting supporters: beware of what you ask for, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence!

The city’s appeal will take up to a year.  In the meantime, the Council continues to sit and there won’t be a summer election.