LOS ANGELES – The Placentia City Council on Tuesday approved a map that redraws the City Council voting districts as part of a settlement with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).
The new map ends nearly four years of legal wrangling to achieve fair representation in the city of about 50,000 people.
“After too long a delay, Placentia can now move forward with a new elections system that should ensure that the right of all city residents to fair electoral opportunity is protected,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “The City should have welcomed this dawning of a new political day, but it regrettably sought to prolong the night by resisting necessary change as long as possible.”
The settlement is the result of a MALDEF breach-of-contract lawsuit to enforce an agreement between its client, Joseph V. Aguirre, and the City that required Placentia to convert from its previous practice of at-large elections to district-based elections.
MALDEF first warned the Orange County city that its practice of using an at-large system for electing councilmembers violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) in December 2015. In the letter, MALDEF stated that the City’s at-large system resulted in severe underrepresentation of the voting choices of Latino residents and voters. MALDEF urged the City to switch to district elections because, even with 36 percent Latino population, there were no Latinos on the city council, and there had only been one Latino member in two decades.
In 2016, MALDEF and the city reached a settlement to rectify the inequities by requiring the City to convert to by-district elections and adopt a map that followed traditional districting criteria and included one district where Latinos had an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
However, in May 2018, the City adopted a map that violated the 2016 settlement agreement. A month later, MALDEF sued Placentia on behalf of Aguirre because the map “contain[ed] a non-contiguous Latino-majority district, intentionally split up neighborhoods and communities of interests, and . . . the Latino- majority district [was] not designed to afford Latino voters a meaningful opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice to the City Council,” the lawsuit stated. The new map, which the City Council approved on July 23, corrects those issues.
“Placentia’s refusal to follow the agreement they unanimously entered into in July 2016 cost taxpayers money,” said Julia Gomez, lead attorney for MALDEF. “Instead of moving forward with the agreement, the City Council engaged in political chicanery and adopted a plan that no court would have approved. We are pleased that the City finally kept its word to adopt a map that gives voters in southwest Placentia an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice to the City Council.”
Read the settlement agreement HERE