Palmdale appeals court decision, says it won't hold new election

Palmdale officials this week appealed a trial judge's ruling that their at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act and said they will not hold new balloting in June.

Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney ordered a new, district-based elections system for Palmdale and required that it hold a special election in June to replace the city's November at-large election.  He also ruled that the current council members could not stay in office beyond July 9.

The appeal automatically stays the order for a new election but not the prohibition against current council members remaining in office, thus adding to the confusion that has beset the city since the court fight began over the elections system last spring.

Several minority residents filed suited claiming that at-large elections undercut their opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.  About two-thirds of city residents are minorities, but only two minorities have been elected to the council since the city's 1962 incorporation. In July, Mooney ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the city said it would appeal and went ahead with its November elections.

An appeals court has yet to rule on the validity of the November elections, in which voters elected the city's first African American councilman.

"It's ironic, and frankly sad, that the plaintiffs' attempts to stop the city's at-large election has resulted in preventing an African American from holding office," Deputy City Atty. Noel Doran said in a statement Thursday.

Kevin I. Shenkman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was "stunned by the Palmdale City Council's refusal to abide by the court's order" of a new election.

"Their actions are misguided and reflect a disturbing contempt for the judicial branch of government," Shenkman said.

Several other California jurisdictions with at-large voting systems and significant minority populations but few or no minority elected officials have switched to by-district elections to avoid or settle lawsuits.  The most recent is Anaheim, which this week agreed to settle a lawsuit by asking voters to allow it to implement district elections.

Whittier also has been sued over its at-large elections.  It plans to ask voters about a change in June but has been criticized by plaintiffs for its plans to proceed with its at-large regular municipal balloting in April.


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