The City of Placentia, California is failing to comply with an agreement to draw a new council district map that ensures Latinos’ voting rights and risks legal action for breaching the settlement if it does not take immediate action, demand letters sent to the city warn.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sent the demand letters after the Placentia city council voted on May 1 to adopt a map that violates various provisions of a settlement reached in 2016, under which the city agreed to convert from at-large to district-based elections and create an effective and contiguous Latino-majority district in time for the November 2018 elections.
“The city council adopted a district map at the 11th hour that splits communities of interests, and creates a Latino-majority district broken up into two pieces,” said Julia Gomez, MALDEF staff attorney. “The city is clearly in violation of the settlement agreement, and if the council does not immediately act, MALDEF will be forced to bring an action that will no doubt be costly to residents of the city.”
In December 2015, MALDEF sent a letter to the city council warning that Placentia’s at-large election system violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001. The letter demanded that the council implement a district-based election system to give Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The demand letter noted that the population of Placentia, located in Orange County, was 36 percent Latino, but there were no Latino members on the five-seat council, and there has been only one Latino councilmember in the last two decades.
Under a settlement reached in 2016, Placentia agreed to draw a new, contiguous Latino-majority district. On May 1 of this year, the council adopted a map, but it violates the terms of the settlement by separating the northernmost part of Council District 2 from the rest of the district.
“Further, it appears that the district was drawn in this manner at least in part to capture the home of one of the councilmembers, and certainly to split communities of interest,” MALDEF informed the Council in a demand letter sent on May 11.
In a follow-up letter sent on May 31, the city was warned that it faces a lawsuit if it does not adopt a compliant map by June 15.