Simi City Council Forced to Change to “District Voting” | Follows Other CA Cities

By Kevin Harris

The Simi Valley City Council appears reluctantly poised to adopt a new, “by district” form of voting system, in response to a demand letter received earlier this month from the same lawyer who has already forced several other California cities to do the same. This was the conclusion reached after Monday night’s Simi Valley City Council Meeting, which centered largely on this issue.  

The letter, which came from attorney Kevin Shenkman, of Shenkman & Hughes Law Firm, in Malibu, alleged that Simi’s current form of voting violates the state’s California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). Enacted in 2001, the CVRA makes it legally easier for minorities to claim they are being disenfranchised by the majority via the current “at large” voting method. The effect of the CVRA is often a breaking up of a geographic area into many more voting districts, usually defined by the racial or socio-economic makeup of the residents within, each electing their own city council leaders from within their new district. 

Attorney Kevin Shenkman

 To date, more than 40 California agencies have been challenged by Shenkman on their CVRA elections compliance, resulting in at least $16 million in settlements and attorney’s fees going to the plaintiff. As of yet, not one agency has successfully defended against a CVRA challenge, though the city of Santa Monica is currently fighting a challenge, and Huntington Beach has announced it plans on fighting its challenge as well. 

Other cities that have fought their CRVA challenges, and lost, and how much they spent on fighting the challenge, are as follows:

Modesto – $3 million (2007)

Anaheim – $1.2 million (2014)

Highland – $1.3 million (2014)

Garden Grove – $290K (2015)

Palmdale – $4.5 million (2015) 

Santa Barbara – $599K (2015)

Santa Clarita – $600K (2017)

Following the presentation on the topic by Assistant City Clerk Ky Spangler, council members chimed in on their thoughts. Mayor Pro Tem Glen Becerra said while he doesn’t want to go this way, he believes the city has no choice, “based on the track record of the cities that preceded us.” 

Council Member Mike Judge pointed out that the Mayor was elected by the People of Simi Valley, and as such, his position should remain safe. He also insisted that the Council takes all required actions for changing voting methods within the required time periods. “I want to make sure that we don’t give this guy (Shenkman) one more penny than we absolutely have to by the state’s extortion law,” Judge said. 

Council Member Keith Mashburn seemed particularly upset about the process being imposed on not only the Council, but on local voters. “This is a sad day in California, and I see it as a sad day in America,” he began. “The law (CVRA) says that we’re discriminating against folks, and I just can’t fathom that this is what has occurred. 

I don’t have a problem going to districts, I really don’t. But to do it, to have a legislature that votes to give extortion rights to a law firm is repulsive to me… the defendant can not win.” 

Mashburn also said, however, that he believes Simi Valley will get through the process with no discrimination, and will be just fine in the end. 

Council Member Keith Mashburn

Mayor Bob Huber tried to stay positive as well. “District voting brings democracy closer to the people… so I see a plus in it. You gotta make the glass half full rather than half empty. Because it’s not worth litigating with this guy,” he said.

Worth noting is that prior to the staff presentation, was a “Public Comments” period, during which several residents spoke in favor of switching to the district voting. Not so much for the merits of district voting, but because they don’t want the city to spend millions to fight the law firm, only to lose. 

Following the staff presentation and the Council’s astute comments, council members appeared to sink into chaos for a good while, talking themselves into logic holes, complicating any possible conclusions and seeming to loose all focus. It looked painfully like a bunch of stoned high school kids trying to order a pizza. At one point, they couldn’t even agree on what they were arguing about. 

When the circus was over and they were once again able to conduct the Peoples’ business, the Council unanimously elected to more public hearings (including one over and above the previously scheduled); authorized staff to begin background work for districting, scheduling hearings, and bringing back resolutions in accordance with the Staff Report. 

The next regular Simi Valley City Council Meeting will be on Monday, September 10, 2018, at 6:30 P.M. Both the meetings on video, and the meeting agendas, can be directly accessed by going to the following URL: http://www.simivalley.org/i-want-to-/view-watch-/city-council-meetings.

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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