The state’s top elections official showed up in Santa Clara today to personally denounce the city’s effort to shrink the number of council districts.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Measure C, which is championed by Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her allies, would unlawfully exclude people of color from representation in their local government. At a presser hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations in Santa Clara, Padilla said the initiative echoes the “strategic assault” on voting rights by the White House and GOP-led state legislatures throughout the country.
California prides itself in taking the opposite tack by actually making it easier for eligible people to participate in elections, Padilla said. The statewide push to invite more people into the democratic process, he went on to say, is “driven by the philosophy that we are a better California, we are a better society when all voices are heard.”
For that reason, Padilla said he urges residents to vote against Measure C, calling the initiative advanced by Santa Clara city leaders “bad policy,” “bad for our democracy” and resembling the kinds of regulations that get struck down by the courts “time and again.”
“Shockingly,” he said, “Measure C, here in the state of California in the year 2020, threatens to dilute the voting power of our diverse communities here in Santa Clara, and restrict their opportunities to elect representatives of their choice here at the local level.”
The state official delivered his address in a narrow corridor packed with journalists, politicos and civil rights leaders, including La Raza Roundtable Chairman Victor Garza and San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP Executive Board Member William Armaline.
Also in attendance: Wes Mukoyama, lead plaintiff in a 2017 lawsuit that called the city’s at-large voting system a violation of the California Voting Rights Act. A Santa Clara Couty judge affirmed that view in 2018 and ordered the city to establish six districts to avoid running afoul of state election law.
The city obliged. And that same year, Santa Clara saw Raj Chahal win a seat on the council—becoming the first Asian American elected to the seven-member body even though Asian Americans make up more than 40 percent of the city.
Former Assemblyman Paul Fong, who introduced Padilla at the news conference, noted that Santa Clara already spent nearly $4 million fighting Mukoyama’s case, even though similar lawsuits in other cities have all ended in favor of plaintiffs. If Measure C passes, he said it would certainly put the city at risk of more litigation.
City leaders have defended Measure C by saying the court ruling to carve out six districts only applied through this year and that residents have a right to vote on a permanent system for elections thereafter. The three-district proposal stems from a recommendation by a council-appointed Charter Review Committee.
The Yes-on-C camp has tried to dismiss the opposition as tools of the S.F. 49ers, which have been locked in a years-long battle with the city over how to run Levi’s Stadium.
Though the NFL team has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the measure, Fong said it’s important to emphasize that the anti-C coalition is led by the Asian Law Alliance and a host of other civil rights advocates.
To date, Measure C has drawn opposition from the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, La Raza, Assembly members Evan Low (D-Campbell), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) as well as former Congressman Mike Honda.
Last month, the Mercury News editorial board deemed it “on the short list for the most irresponsible South Bay measure on the March 3 ballot.”