Ruling in Voting Rights Case Stands to Upend Political Landscape in Santa Clara

A judge has ordered Santa Clara to split into six election districts to end an at-large voting system that has excluded candidates of color from the City Council. Though residents of Asian descent comprise about 40 percent of Santa Clara’s population, not a single one has been elected to the council since the city adopted its charter in 1951.

The ruling this week by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle concludes litigation brought against the city by a group of Asian American residents who claimed the at-large election system violated federal and state voting laws.

“It’s the right decision and it’s long overdue,” Richard Konda of the Asian Law Alliance said after the court issued its ruling Monday.

Kuhnle said that although he’s concerned about Santa Clara’s apparent violations of state and federal election laws, he chose the city’s six-district proposal out of consideration for “the rights of people in California to form charter cities, and the greater degree of autonomy charter cities provide.”

The city had initially attempted to address concerns of minority groups by presenting a two-district system through Measure A on the June 5 ballot, but the measure failed to pass. Wesley Mukoyama—a 44-year Santa Clara resident and one of the lead plaintiffs in the case—said he opposed the city’s two-district compromise because having more districts would give minorities a better chance of filling the council.

The plaintiffs had pushed for a seven-district map with a rotating mayor appointed by council members. But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Rubin, said in court Friday that they “can live with six districts” and an at-large elected mayor.

The ruling stands to dramatically upend the political landscape in Santa Clara, where Gillmor leads a four-member majority bloc on the all-white council. The mayor expressed concerns about how to more forward, saying Kuhnle created a “confusing situation.”

“We celebrate all the different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities of our residents in Santa Clara,” she affirmed in a prepared statement. “As a council, we support diversity and want all our residents to feel represented. While the city will comply with the order for the upcoming election, there is concern that it changed the election system overall without seeking robust input from all our residents.”

On Tuesday, the court released new details about how to proceed, saying that District 2 and District 3—the only two open seats, one held by Councilman Pat Kolstad, who will not seek re-election, and the other vacated since accused sexual harasser Dominic Caserta resigned in disgrace this past spring—will be on the ballot this fall along with the mayor’s. That gives potential candidates just two weeks to file nomination papers.

Virtually every other California city involved in similar voting rights cases wound up settling, which prevented them from appealing. Not Santa Clara. That means the city, which will already have to foot the bill for the plaintiffs’ $3 million-plus in legal fees, still has the option of challenging Kuhnle’s ruling.

But Konda said he’s optimistic.

“This really is a victory for the community and the democracy,” he said. “Both the Asian American and Latino community will get to elect the candidate of their choice.”

San Jose Inside/Metro news editor Jennifer Wadsworth also contributed to this report. 


  1. I think the Mayor who is Hispanic by birth can benefit from this ruling. The losers are everyone who spent months attacking the judge and coming up with Measure A, the Magic Mushroom measure which confused even Sheldon Cooper. It was a measure designed by members of the Mad Hater
    Party whose leader even claimed he was African American due to a background in Egypt. Yeah, and Trump is a Gypsie. The constant tomfoolery lasted 7 years. I am sure the 49ers and Professor Plumb had something to do with it. City Hall Astrologer Jude Barry even sent out a mailer darkening the faces of candidates. As Judge Judy say, time for a plan, my workout guy is waiting.

    • By the way, Mr. Mann as a longtime activist don’t you find it fascinating that City Attorney talked a,gadfly into claiming as a minority these district hurt his chsnced and the pet public relations guy went after the judge. To quote James Baldwin, all the, chickens came home to roost.

  2. Mexican American and Asian American political coalitions throughout California from the Bay Area to LA are actively forming . We must continue to act locally and statewide to protect the Civil Rights and Economic and Education rights we fought for ‼️
    #Coalitions #Progressives #StrongerTogether #Unidos

    • Tribalism does not work. Civilization can share principles or ethnicity, it can’t share both. You want to live in an ethnic power nation, move to one. Having special rights because you are Mexican or Asian are not civil rights, they are ethnic rights. We either live in America with the rule of law, property rights, and the freedoms laid out in the bill of rights or we live in a relativistic one, where circumstances arbitrate treatment under the law. Economically and politically, Latinos/Asians dominate the Bay Area already and city councils bend over backward to selectively bypass rule of law, property rights, and distribution of educational funds, based on those ethnic interests. This will come back to haunt local and state governments, as it has been proven throughout Western history that identity politics and tribalism doesn’t work.

      There are no ethnic principles, just universal ones.

  3. #AsianLawAlliance congratulations on this historical judgement to increase diverse representation on Santa Clara City Council ???
    Padres Unidos California in Solidarity with La Raza Roundtable and the Asian American and Mexican American Coalition #VIVA
    #SantaClara ?

  4. > A judge has ordered Santa Clara to split into six election districts to end an at-large voting system that has excluded candidates of color from the City Council.

    So, which are the white districts, and which are the Asian districts, and which are the black districts?

    Will realtors be aloud to show properties only in Asian districts if customers request districts with the best schools?

    • The most desired homes in SC are the ones which are in the Cupertino district. The most desired elementary home school within SCUSD would be Laurelwood. The highest scoring school in SCUSD is Milliken which is run as a quasi-private school with public money–an outrage but that’s how SC rolls.

      There are reasons why SC is a 2nd tier city. The unchanging city council is one of them. It doesn’t need decades of Lisa G or Patty M but gets it anyway. There are talented people in the city who simply have no chance for the council.

      • > Will realtors be aloud to show properties only in Asian districts if customers request districts with the best schools?

        Mr. Nobody:

        You didn’t answer my perfectly reasonable question, which I take as an indication that you were educated in a poorly performing school district.

        You might want to ask your realtor to show you some houses in (wink, wink) “areas with good schools”.

      • Lisa Gillmor 1992 to 2000 8 years

        2012 to 2018, 6 years

        Wow, an epoch
        Oh, it is 14 years of an Hispanic councillor. Those elitists!

  5. Who drew the districts? Why wasn’t there any input from citizens? It looks like old fashioned Red-Lining. Why werent natural borders (SCUSD/ Cupertino school district, Hwy 101, San Tomas and Lawrence Expwys, Homestead and Pruneridge). Why cant we vote? One man decides? George Orwell says, “Told you.”

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