SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) — A major change is coming to Santa Clara politics after a judge ordered the city to divide into six districts with a single council member in each area.
The judge said the decision is all about equality.
The city of Santa Clara has never elected an Asian-American city council member since the charter was adopted in 1951, this is despite the fact that Asians make up 40 percent of the residents.
Santa Clara will be split into six voting districts in future elections under the new order issued by the Santa Clara County Superior Court Monday.
In the past, residents voted in an at-large election system, meaning all voters could vote for all of the council members.
Plaintiffs who brought the case to court say that led to an all-white city council for decades.
“We’re really happy. We think that this decision is really a victory for the community, a victory for democracy, said Richard Konda, the Executive Director of the Asian Law Alliance. And the reason we say that is that the community now — in terms of the Asian-American community and the Latino community — will be able to elect candidates of their choice.”
Konda and the Asian Law Alliance helped bring this case against the city under the California Voting Rights Act.
With the new map of how the city will be divided into six separate districts, some districts will have Asians as the majority, while in others Latinos account for the majority of the voting age-population. Konda hopes this will give minorities a chance to elect representatives of their choice.
“In part, we’re trying to level the playing field so that candidates have a better chance,” explained Konda. “Again, if you run citywide, you’re talking about having to walk the whole city, having to raise money to send mailers to the whole city.”
The city is displeased with the decision.
“First and foremost, what we’ve concerned about is following the will of the people,” said Santa Clara City Attorney Brian Doyle. “So our charter provides differently than what the court has ordered.”
Doyle says the city is in favor of diversity, but it fears that district elections will be decided by a small number of voters.
“It’s not like San Jose where you have 100,000 people in one district,” said Doyle. “Here you have approximately 19,000 or 20,000 people in each district and that’s pretty small. Given patterns of voting, you don’t get all registered voters to vote.”
The judge is expected to announce shortly which seats will be up for election in 2018.
The Santa Clara City Council is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday morning to see how it will respond to the judge’s decision. They will discuss a possible appeal.