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JULIAN JOSHUA, Dana Point
With the majority bloc on the Council seemingly determined to move with haste to five districts, we are not getting enough information to inform the most important and momentous decision in city governance since incorporation. Only Councilwoman Lewis thought fit to hold open information forums and was publicly scolded by Councilman Tomlinson for her pains.
Recent developments in the ongoing California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) case involving our sister city Mission Viejo make it all the more important to put the brakes on this ill-considered rush over the cliff. Mission Viejo received their letter in September but did not roll over. They proposed “other remedies” to enhance the voting influence of their minority community. Until now they were not sued. It seems the plaintiff’s lawyer has now issued a lawsuit, but reading between the lines this looks more like a way to bring any “other remedies” settlement that is in the pipeline before a judge. This would be the only way to give it validity under the CVRA. The facts are not yet clear, but it would be folly for Dana Point to move to districting before we even know what is happening in Mission Viejo.
Receiving a letter does not mandate an immediate move to districts. It merely starts a process. One option involving fairly tight deadlines provides a ‘safe harbor’ if a City decides to change to districting, but there are other possible outcomes short of fighting. Curiously, the Council has ignored the “step-by-step” defense strategy advocated by its own demographer starting with a risk assessment under the CVRA.
Contrary to what we have been told, the City is not required to prove voting is not racially polarized. The CVRA test of what constitutes “racially polarized voting” is indeed much lower than the federal standard, but as the plaintiffs’ lawyer himself concedes, Elec. Code S. 14028 (a) requires him to “show” racially-polarized voting in order to make out a CVRA violation. A conclusory assertion unsupported by evidence is not good enough.
Racially polarized voting under the CVRA is when the protected minority class votes differently from the rest of the electorate. Surely before we roll over, it makes sense to see whether that is indeed the case in Dana Point. Whatever the finding, the analysis would be a useful tool to inform any negotiations with the plaintiffs. Such a demographic study would cost in the region of $15 to $20,000 – which many would consider money well spent.
Even if a violation is shown, it’s hard to believe a judge would force the City into creating five districts when far from helping minorities, it might actually dilute their political influence. This is why the CVRA mandates the court to craft other “remedies appropriate to the violation” where districting will not help the protected class to increase its voting influence. This is exactly what Mission Viejo has consistently argued.
The City has been pushing us toward five districts now. Even if we do ultimately have to district, what’s the rush? Let’s get it right. And why no mention until a few days ago of the “four districts plus mayor at large” model? Ironically, while Palmdale (massive litigation, $4.5 million legal bills and having to district anyway) was continuously rolled out as a horror story of what will happen if we don’t go to five districts immediately, the City did not see fit to mention that Palmdale had settled for four districts and an at-large mayor.
Before we even start pouring over maps, the Council needs to do four things immediately: coordinate with Mission Viejo and other similarly placed cities to develop a joint strategy; commission the detailed demographic study its own demographer recommends as SOP; start good faith discussions with the lawyer (and his unidentified clients); hold a special open forum with the entire Council and allow full and open discussion with the community.