Cord Bauer, San Clemente
I called the city attorney for Santa Barbara this week, not to turn someone in for plastic straw distribution, but to ask him about their voting process. Santa Barbara was sued in order to switch to district elections. My specific question to him was about money; how much did the lawsuit cost?
“Just shy of $1 million,” he said.
The money wasn’t for a trial but simply to settle the case out of court.
In California, there is a group of lawyers who sue cities that has a significant minority population but don’t have district-style elections. The concept is that minorities never run for City Council because they know they’re fighting an uphill battle against candidates with more money and a system that protects incumbent officials. California cities have learned to expect lawsuits for district elections when a minority group in town reaches about 20 percent of the population. San Clemente’s Hispanic community now represents about 18 percent of the total. From what I’ve read, the group of lawyers have never lost a lawsuit for districting against any city in California.
To be blunt, San Clemente can’t afford a “no” vote on district elections. The city’s legal budget is already 250 percent higher than it was three years ago, and sooner or later that lawsuit for districting will happen. Can’t that money be better spent elsewhere?
A San Clemente citizen’s initiative for district elections was put on the ballot two years ago, but the City Council decided to shelve the vote in order to “study” the issue. The city has apparently spent $18,500 on a study regarding district voting. I haven’t seen the study, have you? I truly hope that the city releases this study far and wide so that the voters in town can see how their money was spent.
The district initiative on the ballot is not perfect, but it can be improved with input from the residents. If we wait until our town is sued, it will be money wasted on a lawsuit that could have been avoided.