In a new critique of how minorities are treated in the Antelope Valley, a judge has ruled that Palmdale violated state voting laws by maintaining an election system that stymied Latinos and blacks from winning office.
The judge’s findings come a month after the U.S. Justice Department accused Palmdale, Lancaster and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department of a systematic effort to discriminate against minorities who received low-income subsidized housing.
Federal officials said deputies conducted widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions and used unreasonable force that specifically targeted blacks and Latinos.
The Palmdale voting rights case has been watched closely by minority activists in the Antelope Valley.
Judge Mark V. Mooney, in an opinion released this week, concluded that Palmdale’s at-large voting system for its city council violated state law because the city has “racially polarized voting” and minority voters are unable to influence the outcome of elections.
The judge agreed with plaintiff Juan Jauregui, who argued that Palmdale had not adequately followed the California Voting Rights Act, which requires district rather than citywide elections if there is any evidence of racially polarized voting, and if it can be shown that a minority district can be drawn. Palmdale is 54.4% Latino and nearly 15% black yet has only elected one Latino city council member and never a black council member in its history, said Jauregui’s attorney, R. Rex Parris. Parris is also the mayor of Lancaster.
“The current absence of any Latinos or African Americans on the Palmdale City Council reveals a lack of access to the political process,” Parris said in a statement following the ruling.
The Justice Department’s probe in the Antelope Valley did not focus on voting. But its report called racial intolerance “an unfortunate part” of the history of the area, which has the highest rate of hate crimes of any region in the county.
During one Palmdale election in the 1990s, the campaign sign of a female African American candidate was spray-painted with the words “Vote White.”