Santa Barbara-based firm Fargey Law threatened Santa Cruz with legal action if the city doesn’t opt to transition to district elections. The City Council decided not to take action to move away from the current system of at-large elections at a Sept. 24 council meeting.
Lanny Ebenstein, President of the California Voting Rights Project (CVRP) — a group working with Fargey Law to implement district elections in Santa Cruz — said the firm would postpone legal action because of the potential recall of council members Chris Krohn and Drew Glover.
“There’s a lot going on in the city of Santa Cruz right now and their focus is obviously on other issues right now with respect to the makeup of the council,” Ebenstein said. “I think some of those issues need to sort themselves out before there’s real consideration of change.”
Ebenstein expects the district elections issue will be postponed until 2020, but if the council still declines to take action after the recall is resolved, it could mean a lawsuit.
Fargey Law and the CVRP claim the city of Santa Cruz has failed to properly represent its Latinx population in government elections and is thus in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
The Latinx community makes up 20.6 percent of the population, yet only 7.1 percent of elected council members have been Latinx in the past 19 years. Advocates of district elections argue this method would remedy the discrepancy.
“There’s no question that district elections lead to more diversity on the City Council,” Ebenstein said. “If you’re in favor of diversity on the City Council, you’re in favor of district elections. If you’re against diversity on the City Council, you’re against district elections.”
Some council members agree the Latinx population is underrepresented, but argue district elections would reduce student representation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Santa Cruz Latinx population isn’t concentrated in one area of the city, but students are.
“I’m all up for the debate. I see some positive aspects of district elections,” said Council Member Chris Krohn. “But the negative thing is for students, it would put you in one district and that’s what the idea has been among the conservatives in Santa Cruz for many, many years.”