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Betty Arenson: Vote smart in every election

Posted: April 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.

It’s one thing to know you and your wallet have been the victims of a legal money-grabbing scam, but to get repeatedly sucker-punched while you are still reeling is the second atrocity.

Two out-of-town law firms have successfully and unashamedly cultivated a very disturbing practice of suing cities and school districts under the guise of alleging “racial disparity.”

The attorneys are R. Rex Parris of Lancaster and Kevin Shenkman of Malibu, and their two clients are SCV residents Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. The immediate defendants are the city of Santa Clarita and two local school districts.

These lawyers filed lawsuits in mid-2013 alleging that at-large voting dilutes the Latino vote, whereas by-district voting would supposedly give the Latino community a greater chance of assuring their guy or gal gets elected.

This kind of absurdity is fueled by the usual insanity of another feel-good effort called the California Voting Rights Act.

You see, at-large voting is seen as violating the CVRA because it prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

The plaintiffs do not have the onus of the burden of proof or the need to show any damages; they simply have to show up.

At-large voting gives every eligible voter in the city 100 percent voting power for all five Santa Clarita City Council seats, with each being up for challenge over every four-year period.

District voting cuts that voting power down to 20 percent per voter as residents are restricted to voting for only candidates running in their districts.

If this voting system were to be forced upon the city, district lines would have to be drawn, with predictable hassle, and would be inherently divisive.

Santa Clarita and its citizens would lose the unity that present and past City Councils have worked to attain.

Irrespective of reality, attorney Shenkman called at-large voting “a bare majority be(ing) able to dominate 100 percent of the city council.”

One only had to read the outcome of the April 8 Santa Clarita city election to see the farce.

Here are some facts:

  •  Only about 14.2 percent of Santa Clarita’s 114,397 eligible voters exercised their voting rights for in the election for three City Council seats.
  •  Aside from the incumbents, there were 11 candidates on the ballot. Three are Latino.
  •  The two incumbents retained their seats and the third will be filled by a Latino — Dante Acosta.
  •  Kevin Shenkman donated money to one City Council candidate: Stephen Daniels. Daniels is a Caucasian, not a Latino.
  •  The home towns of both R. Rex Parris and Kevin Shenkman — Lancaster and Malibu, respectively — both have at-large voting, not the by-district voting the attorneys are trying to force on others.

It would be interesting to know if plaintiffs Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser voted and, if they did, whether they voted for any or all of the three Latinos.

Adding to the chirping that no defendant ever prevails in this area of litigation, in July 2013, Kevin Shenkman said he hoped the defendants would settle because going to trial “won’t benefit anyone.”

Really? I would call the settlement agreement with the city of Santa Clarita that gives the suing attorneys about $600,000 in fees one heck of a benefit.

How about you, fellow taxpayers?

That settlement agreement would allow the city to avoid breaking itself into districts on certain conditions: that it reschedule its City Council elections to coincide with November elections held during even-numbered, higher-profile elections; and that it consider changing to “cumulative voting,” a system wherein a voter can cast multiple votes for one candidate rather than being restricted to one vote per candidate on a ballot.

The latter change could require state approval, which may not be granted.

Even with these concessions, a statement from the plaintiffs indicates the $600,000 may buy only two years and that the council’s ethnic makeup will remain the subject of scrutiny.

The suggestion is that the by-district voting may still be demanded in the future.

And consider this: In the Santa Clarita Valley the city is but one defendant; hard-working taxpayers who live in Canyon Country will get to fork over more than $144,000 to the lawyers after Sulphur Springs School District announced its settlement agreement, which includes $144,000 in attorneys fees as well as breaking the school district into sub-districts.

College of the Canyons, the other local district that was sued, has yet to announce how much money it will hand over to the lawyers.

Is this a great legal system or what?

If this scenario is not yet another motivating example of why voting in every election — and voting smart — is important, then no wonder we’re on the fragile edge of the cliff.

Betty Arenson is a Valencia resident.



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