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Costa Mesa to pay $55,000 to help settle voting-rights claim

Costa Mesa voting

Costa Mesa voters will be asked whether the city should switch from at-large voting to district-based voting for City Council seats. The council voted 4 to 0 to put the question on the November ballot.

 

(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Costa Mesa will pay $55,000 to help resolve a claim that the city’s current election system dilutes the voting power of Latino residents, according to terms of a settlement announced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

As part of the settlement, approved unanimously during a closed session, the city will seek voter approval in November to change to a district-based system for electing council members. The council OKd that plan April 19.

In such a system, the city would be divided into voting areas, with each area electing a council member to represent it. The five Costa Mesa council members currently are elected by voters citywide in an at-large system.

The city agreed to pay $55,000 to cover attorneys’ costs for those who made the claim — Costa Mesa resident Eloisa Rangel and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonprofit that seeks to “empower Latinos and other minorities by increasing their participation in the American democratic process,” according to its website.

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The claimants were represented by Kevin Shenkman, an attorney with Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes.

Shenkman had threatened to sue Costa Mesa, alleging in a letter that the use of at-large voting violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by reducing the power of the city’s Latino residents to “elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Costa Mesa’s council elections.”

No Latino candidate has been elected to the Costa Mesa City Council, according to Shenkman, who has been involved in several voting rights cases. Latinos made up about 36% of the city’s population as of the 2010 Census.

Faced with the specter of a potentially costly lawsuit, city officials said it made sense to start the process of changing the election system.

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The city also is mounting an effort to inform residents of the possible change.

A series of “meet the expert” meetings have been scheduled at City Hall, featuring David Ely, a consultant retained to aid in the process of creating voting districts.

The meetings will begin at 10 a.m. Friday and on May 12 and 14. Multiple sessions may be held each day, depending on public interest. Sessions are planned to be small, with only two or three attendees at a time.

The meetings “should be a good hands-on session for those of you who are interested in how the boundaries will actually be shaped and drawn,” said Costa Mesa Assistant Chief Executive Rick Francis.

Those interested in attending a session must schedule an appointment by calling the city clerk’s office at (714) 754-5225.

The city also plans to hold community meetings about the issue in June, Francis said. Details of those will be announced in the next week or two, he said.


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