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Editorial: Why Santa Clara voters should reject Measure A

Santa Clara voters should reject Measure A  on the June 5 ballot. They should vote against the City Council’s flawed, ranked-choice, two-district election plan as an exercise in futility and an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.
It is an embarrassment to a city with such a proud history that its current at-large election system keeps recycling the same, increasingly dysfunctional all-white members on and off the council.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle said Tuesday that Santa Clara’s at-large system isn’t fair to minority voters. No kidding. Since the city charter was adopted nearly 70 years ago, no Asian-American candidate has been elected to the council, despite the fact that they now make up more than 30 percent of the city’s eligible voters. A group of Asian Americans sued Santa Clara last year, saying the city’s at-large election system discriminates against Asian Americans. The judge said in his proposed statement of decision that in 10 of the races for City Council between 2002-16, five demonstrated “racially polarized voting”.

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The judge, in a December hearing, also called Measure A, the City Council’s proposed remedy, “suspect.” That should have been a clear signal to the council to abandon the proposal in favor of drawing six smaller, neighborhood districts that would give minority candidates a better chance of being elected. But council members chose to ignore the warning and put their plan before voters.
Measure A contains obvious flaws. The ranked-choice component has pros and cons, including that it’s potentially confusing to voters. But the big objection is the unorthodox proposal dividing the city into two districts, which even proponents say is unlike any system used in California. Measure A creates the potential for a majority of City Council members, including the mayor, to live within walking distance of one another, as several do now. It’s also not clear to what degree dividing the city in half, roughly along El Camino Real, would enhance minority candidates’ chances for election.
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If Measure A passes, the City Council is likely to push forward with an appeal. This, despite a warning from city consultants in 2011 and at least two warnings from Kuhnle that the council should stipulate to liability, save money and move on to the remedy phase.
No city has defeated a California Voting Rights Act challenge since the law was passed 15 years ago. Losing efforts in Modesto and Palmdale cost each in the neighborhood of $5 million. A conservative estimate of plaintiff fees just for the most recent trial is $3 million-$4 million, and that doesn’t include the substantial attorney fees incurred by the city of Santa Clara.
The city has in recent years drifted from being one of the best run cities in the Bay Area to chaos, featuring constant turnover of city staff, non-stop bickering among council members and fights over how Levi’s Stadium should be run.
Santa Clara needs a new method of electing its council members that will reflect the city’s diversity. Measure A is not the solution. Voters should reject it June 5 and send the City Council back to the drawing board.

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