For the first time, Santa Clarans are electing two councilmembers from Districts 2 and 3. In 2020, the voters will elect four new councilmembers from the remaining neighborhood districts. This change in our voting system was mandated by Santa Clara County Superior Court, after finding that our city charter’s at-large system resulted in racially polarized voting and violated state law. Legally, the court judgment overrides and nullifies our city charter.
In the past 5 years, the city council commissioned two broad-based, blue ribbon Charter Review Committees to recommend changes to our voting system. The result of hundreds of hours of study, discussion, and public participation was a proposal to divide the city into two districts, with 3 councilmembers in each. Measure A was put on the ballot and failed. The voters’ overwhelming rejection of Measure A was not due to voter confusion or lack of education. The city spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on educational materials in support of Measure A. Yet the voters seemed to understand clearly that voters’ rights were at stake and Measure A did not solve the problem.
Measure N was placed on the ballot by the city council and seems to ask only if we should consider another public process to consider dividing our city into districts for council elections. Although a seemingly innocuous question, the reality is that such a process won’t change anything and will cost our city staff an enormous amount of time and the taxpayers a great deal of money.
Our city lost the California Voters’ Rights Act lawsuit that was brought against it. And that loss has cost the city millions – over $4.2 million taxpayer dollars that we now owe the winning plaintiff for attorney’s fees and costs, and over $500,000 that the city paid to its own outside attorney. If we don’t retain the six districts as ordered by the court, we will be open to another round of litigation, which will simply result in more litigation, more attorney’s fees and costs, and more city resources spent in a useless endeavor.
It’s time to stop this merry-go-round. State law supersedes our city charter; it’s that simple. The court ordered the appropriate remedy to bring our city into compliance with state law. It’s that clear. It’s time to accept that nothing other than six districts will satisfy the legal requirement for fair elections in Santa Clara. VOTE NO ON MEASURE N.
Jeannie Mahan Visger