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Palmdale to appeal Voting Rights Act decision

City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy speaks out

OW Staff Writer | 7/26/2013, midnight

The city of Palmdale will appeal the recent decision granted to the plaintiffs in the California Voting Rights Lawsuit brought forth by John (Juan) Jauregui.

The lawsuit, filed last April, alleges Palmdale violated the California Voting Rights Act by using an election format (at-large) that dilutes the influence of minority voters. The law has been used to sue several cities since it was adopted in 2002. One was Modesto, which switched to district voting as a result.

“While I am deeply disappointed in the court’s decision, I am proud that expert witness testimony established what we’ve known for a long time—that the city of Palmdale is one of the most racially diverse cities in the country,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. “As mayor, I am extremely proud of that fact, as our community has worked tirelessly to promote diversity in this city.”

“Lawyers Shenkman and Parris are using a poorly drafted statute as a pretext for a huge attorney’s fee windfall at the expense of the taxpayers,” said Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy. “This lawsuit has never been about White, Black or Brown—only green.”

“I am grateful to the court for its thoughtful consideration of this matter, made difficult by the poorly drafted statute,” said Ditzhazy. “It’s hard to fathom that the Legislature intended to require districting merely because of the existence of some racially polarized voting, particularly in light of the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert that, in his many years as an expert, he has never found a jurisdiction anywhere in the country where there was not ‘racially polarized voting,’ as defined by the plaintiffs. With over 90 percent of California cities using an at-large method of electing the City Council, the plaintiffs’ reading of the statute and its definition of ‘racially polarized voting’ is tantamount to requiring every city to use a district method of election. If the Legislature wanted to force every city into districts, it would have done so. This is one of the many issues we believe are ripe for appeal.”

“Of note, while the judge seems to agree that Palmdale is very integrated, he specifically stated that he could not consider several very important factors in elections such as quality of the candidates, the effectiveness of their campaigns, and voter turnout which varies widely among racial groups,” Ditzhazy stated.

Palmdale will continue to evaluate its options in this matter. “We continue to believe that the manner by which the citizens of Palmdale elect their leaders is up to them and protected by the California Constitution,” said Ditzhazy. “In 2001, our citizens decided that they preferred to elect the City Council at large, and we will continue to honor their wishes. If, in the future, the citizens decide they prefer to elect the City Council in another manner, I’m sure the City Council will be happy to engage in that process. However, we will not cower to outsiders motivated by power and avarice.”

In a parallel development, Lancaster will hold a town hall on Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Lancaster City Hall City Council Chambers, located at 44933 Fern Ave.

The town hall will be conducted by a committee the city government has formed to assess its current election policies. The committee is comprised of three city commissioners—Steven Derryberry, Deputy Mayor Cassandra D. Harvey and Ed Galindo—as well as Deputy Mayor Kit Yee Szeto and community member Darren Parker. Derryberry will serve as committee chairperson.

The town hall will give residents an opportunity to express their views; convey what they feel works and doesn’t work; and suggest any ideas they have which may enhance the way the city conducts elections. In particular, one goal of the meeting is to vet what citizens may think about voting districts versus at-large in Lancaster.

“Lancaster is a diverse city with people from all walks of life residing here,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris. “The City Council deeply values the opinions of our residents, and hopes this town hall meeting will provide a viable opportunity for all to get engaged in their local political system.”

The monthly Lancaster Neighborhood Vitalization Commission (LNVC) meeting, regularly scheduled at that time and location, will be cancelled for that evening.