Santa Clara Settles $4.5 Million Lawsuit over Districted Elections

A newly unveiled settlement from a costly, years-long lawsuit will lock Santa Clara city elections into six voting districts moving forward—as long as the voters agree.

The seven-person Santa Clara City Council unanimously approved the agreement Tuesday during a closed-door meeting. The agreement gives the minority residents and organizations who sued the city in December 2017 for violating the California Voting Rights Act what they've been pushing for from the start: a system in which residents vote for a councilor to represent one of six parts of the city, rather than every resident voting on every council candidate, known as “at-large” voting.

The plaintiffs argued the city’s at-large method of electing officials diluted its Asian American residents’ votes in council elections. Their argument won over a Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2018 and three California Appeals Court Judges last December. Elected officials decided not to appeal again, a decision that marked the beginning of the end to a 70-year practice of at-large voting, which is outlined in the city's charter, first adopted in 1951.

All told, the lawsuit cost the city of Santa Clara $4.55 million paid to the plaintiffs, Doyle said Tuesday. About $3.8 million has already been paid to the groups represented by three law firms, including the Asian Law Alliance. A final check for $712,500 will be issued to cover the remaining costs for the plaintiffs, according to Doyle.

Tuesday’s settlement requires the Santa Clara City Council to formally call for a vote by residents on the issue on or before June 1. Residents would cast their ballot to approve or decline future elections with six-districts sometime after that date. Doyle said that timeline will give the city plenty of time to get everything organized to amend the city's charter ahead of the November 2022 election.

The vote, if it favors six districts, would solidify that 2018 and 2020 elections that were held with those districts were correct, legal and will continue for the foreseeable future. That would put to rest the contentious debate between councilors over whether the voting system can be legally changed without a vote by residents.

Councilman Raj Chahal and the newly elected councilors, Anthony Becker, Suds Jain and Kevin Park, each have said they support six districts and believe the change could be implemented by ordinance, as other California cities have done in the past.

But other city officials, including Mayor Lisa Gillmor, City Attorney Brian Doyle and former council members who opposed the judge’s initial 2018 ruling, argued such a change required a vote of the people to legally amend the city’s charter.

That set in motion a process with council-appointed committees tasked with recommending how many districts the city should have. The recommendations that came out of those committees led to two failed ballot measures: Measure A in 2018 that recommended two districts; and Measure C in 2020, which asked voters to decide whether they wanted three districts in the city.

Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance, said he confident a six-district proposal will pass, in part because the council unanimously agreed on the decision and because voters have not been amenable to a smaller number of districts in past elections.

Doyle confirmed neither the city nor its elected officials are allowed to write an argument against the ballot measure in any official capacity.

Konda says he sees the settlement as a beaming civil rights victory.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental right in our democracy,” Konda said in a statement Tuesday. “The elimination of the discriminatory at-large system removes a significant barrier to the meaningful participation of Asian Americans in the city of Santa Clara’s election system.”

Councilmember Raj Chahal agreed, pointing to how the judgement has already brought three Asian minority council members on the city council:  Jain, Park and himself.

“I am glad this is over and, finally, Santa Clara has abided with the CVRA and settled this unnecessary lawsuit,” Chahal said. “Santa Clara tax payers have lost more than $6 million because of this lawsuit, I wish we had done it better and saved these much needed city funds."

Councilmember Anthony Becker said while this politics-ridden issue could have been resolved a long time ago, he's not going to ruminate on who's to blame.

“I don't think we should point fingers at the ones who supported the appeal of the six districts," Becker said. "Now they’re on board, and I think this is a great opportunity for us to work together.”

Neither City Attorney Doyle nor Mayor Gillmor were available for comment.

10 Comments

  1. On the night the settlement was approved, racist Kathy challenged Kevin Park, [email protected]@

    Watanabe who crosses the street every time she sees someone of color attacked Park for his lack of full wireless capability at home. She demanded that Park show his inscrutable face.

    Watanabe is a petty multiple beer drinking, bratwurst 49er fan, who tries to slam them in between brews.

  2. The lesson here is that just because one occupies a position of responsibility, (here being council members and City Attorney), residents can never assume those in such positions will act responsibly.

    Let’s be clear. Since 2011, when the City was first put on notice of its racist and discriminatory at large voting scheme, City Council endorsed litigation to preserve white rule in the City of Santa Clara. As the Trial Court found, this practice had a record of 70+ years of diluting Asian American resident votes in City Council races. The Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Santa Clara represents a 44% plurality of city residents.

    Compare, Santa Clara’s neighbor the City of Sunnyvale. When noticed of a like violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), they performed a thoughtful, honest analysis of the merits. They concluded, correctly, Sunnyvale was operating outside the the requirements of the CVRA and immediately moved from at large to district voting.

    Santa Clara had another, and ugly, agenda. Yes, the city paid dearly. When you add the attorneys fees the court, rightly, slammed the City (plus what the City spent on two problematic failed ballot measures) the monetary loss is in excess of $5MM.

    More importantly, the City because of their hell bent effort to preserve white rule, is rightly tagged as the Alabama of Silicon Valley.

    It is up to this current city council to “Out, damned spot.” That may take a generation. A first step must be (1) an apology to the AAPI Santa Clara community and, equally, (2) holding those in official positions who promoted or sat by and did nothing, accountable. Ie, fire/throw them out of office.

  3. So now Santa Clara needs to redistrict by gerrymandering it self into segregated voting districts.
    Where to draw the lines. “Rich White Middle Class Enclave District” , “Rich Hispanic Drug Dealer Barrio District”, Rich Jewish Lawyer Ghetto, Rich Black Football Player Ghetto, Crazy Rich Asian, and Pacific Islander, Engineer and Entrepreneur 44% minority Group, Trible Native American Village People Group Clearly there is no majority anything here group, and segregating the city is this size by race goes against 60 years of trying to bring equality and acceptance of different people that is the melting pot of America.
    Congratulations you have achieved and legalized racism again!

  4. Liberal racism is indeed the motive behind district obsession, improving the chances of each Democrat related special interest group getting hands on a seat.

    Next comes packing the court if the number of interest groups increases, already a strategy sought by the low-life residents nation-wide to pack the Supreme Court and if they can, too, the U.S. Senate with effectively permanent Dem “states.”

  5. The first two comments above are written by racists. How could they not be racists? Theyconstantly refer to peoples’ race, and their entire comments consist of race-based name-calling and demonization of anyone who doesn’t toe their line.

    They can’t help it. They’ve been programmed, like millions of others, by a media intolerant of anyone who thinks for themselves.

    They’re not the only brownshirts. The self-serving Councilcritters who want six districts see it as an easier way to get reelected. Maybe they’re right about that. But it’s a slap in the face of Santa Clara residents, who voted against this race-based district nonsense.

    Well, TPTB have learned their lesson: do NOT allow We The People to express any opinions contrary to those Good Ol’ Boys and Gals: …neither the city nor its elected officials are allowed to write an argument against the ballot measure in any official capacity.

    Why is the 1st Amendment being canceled in this particular instance? Is our Constitution being defenestrated because these seat-warmers are terrified that voters might reject district voting like they did before?

    The presumption that “racism” is the reason a failed candidate ran an inept campaign and thus lost his feeble attempt to get on the City Council is errant nonsense. It’s easy for a rabble rouser to accuse someone of being a “racist.” But that’s merely name-calling — and we can be certain he would insult someone if they were female, an invalid, or elderly. But I’ve yet to see someone like that insult a young, healthy Marine in his first enlistment.

    Racism in this country has been on life support for the past several decades. But the media searches diligently for an example of racism, and when it finds the occasional example, they treat like a precious commodity and milk it for all it’s worth. But the media never mentions the tremedous progress our country has made in eradicating racism, from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers killed in the Civil War, until now, when caucasians applying for admission to Harvard are penalized based on an official policy of racism.

    But what good would it do to show the progress being made? If the media pointed out all the good that’s been done in that regard, the ‘woke’ folks they’re programming might actually feel good about our country instead of hating it.

    This district election idea has nothing to do with actual racism, and everything to do with the tactic of “divide and conquer.” If endemic racism is the reason an Asian lost his election, Ms. Watanabe would never have been on the City Council.

    The judge who originally approved the election to decide whether the city future elections would be at large, or by district, was given bad advice when he was told that the voters would approve district elections. When the voters rejected election districts, the judge reneged. When the election didn’t go the way the judge wanted, he voided the election results — results that he had previously approved.

    That makes it clear that the fix is in. The government is going to shove district elections down the throats of city residents, even after they voted to reject Council districts. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a single credible argument supporting district elections, or that the only reason the plaintiff didn’t win his election was due to his own incompetence. TPTB intend to ‘fundamentally change’ our country, from a place where everyone has equal opportunity, to a different place, where everyone finishes equally.

    The first made America the greatest country in the history of the world, while equal results will drag us down to mediocrity. District elections are a big step in the direction of mediocrity — arbitrarily demanded by a high-handed judge who doesn’t even live in the city he presumes to rule over.

  6. Districts prevents one population in one area dictaing the composition of an ENTIRE political body.

    Which has pccured here for decades.

    Especially because the so called “poor” people are usuillly not given the chance to vote, that they cannot afford to go without work to go to a polling station.

    Only recently has MAIL IN voting been used primarily, and if district votes work, it will at least demonstrate where there is need for political competition, too many uncontested seats will be on the record.

    Let the political “cock fighting” begin, and lets see who can outcompete in getting their votes.

  7. M.T. Gunn is shooting blanks again. Not Suckered forges ahead with trying to sucker readers again. And Smokey is again blowing smoke. They are Definitely Not SJKulak bots but one might mistake them for that.

    They apparently are in favor of city-wide elections in Santa Clara. Are they similarly in favor of county-wide elections where the top five vote-getters in this overwhelmingly Blue county take the supervisor seats? What about statewide assembly and senate elections where the top 80 vote-getters in an overwhelmingly Blue state become assemblymembers and the top 40 senate candidates take the senate seats? And what about the federal level? The top 53 California vote-getters go to the House in DC? Would there be any Republicans left in the California delegation to DC? Would it remain white as the bots desire?

    And what about the electoral college, created to accommodate slave-owner dominated states and that ensured that 8 of the first 9 presidents elected in the U.S. were slave-owners from Southern states (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/opinion/electoral-college-slavery.html; https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/electoral-college-slavery-constitution)? The demise of slavery–something the Federalist Society originalist bots probably decry and regret (after all, if slavery was consciously and originally intended and institutionalized by the founders and framers of the Constitution, doesn’t abolishing slavery constitute an un-Constitutional act?)–did not lead to the demise of the electoral college which still produces presidential victors who lack a majority of popular votes (e.g. Bush, Trump) (https://www.vox.com/2021/1/11/22224700/electoral-college-joe-biden-donald-trump-bias-four-points-one-chart).

    And which of these bots would dismantle the gerrymandered state and federal house districts in dozens of states that dilute urban, Democratic and Democratic-leaning populations so as to ensure Republicans remain dominant and incumbent in those states? Would it stay white under those conditions? It seems the doltish bots have backed themselves into a real conundrum here.

  8. The canard that “poor” people can’t vote is an outright lie, told by liars trying to game the system.

    The same people can get to the dentist. They can get to the grocery store. They can visit friends and relatives. Why can’t they get to their local precinct, which ison average just a few minutes walk away from where they live?

    Qhen you have to lie to make a point, you’ve lost the argument.

    It’s no different with the loser who was used to file the “discrimination” lawsuit that started this racist nonsense. People don’t give a damn about a candidate’s race, they vote for whoever they think will serve their interests.

    This whole ‘district’ idea is errant nonsense. If two districts is good, then six districts must be even better. So, why not twelve districts? Why not twenty districts? Here’s a thought: how about sticking with one district? That’s what we’ve always used, which America the great country it is. Instead you want to tear down our system any way you can. You don’t know it but you’re being controlled like a string puppet. The media is making you dance to their tune, and you’re doing exactly as programmed.

    Racism in this country has been on life support for the past several decades, and the only reason anyone even cares any more is because the media constantly trumpets “RACISM!!” 24/7/365. Instead of thinking, you react.

    Thinking people know that minority candidates have a better chance of beig accepted at schools like Stanford because of their race than Caucasians. But you don’t harp on that racism, do you?

    Just because a crybaby didn’t know how to communicate how he would benefit the constituency he wanted to represent, the fact that he lost had nothing to do with his Japanese ancestry, and everything to do with his incompetence. He couldn’t provide a single instance of anyone voting against him because he was Japanese. That case was all smoke and mirrors, heard by a biased judge who doesn’t even live in the jurisdiction he’s meddling with.

    As usual, your side couldn’t compete fair and square, so now you want to tilt the playing field. That’s what every loser wants to do when they can’t win a straight up, fair contest.

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