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Palmdale Forced to Open City Council to Latinos

Palmdale Forced to Open City Council to Latinos
Palmdale scenery via Jeff Turner/Flickr

Updated at the bottom with Palmdale vowing to appeal. First posted at 12:28 p.m. Monday.

At a time when Latinos are pressuring the federal government to essentially create more brown representation on the powerful L.A. County Board of Supervisors, some minorities are claiming victory in the high desert town of Palmdale this week.

A judge ruled recently that Palmdale's at-large elections -- having the whole city vote on each district's representative -- is illegal because it denies Latinos and African Americans a shot at sending one of their own to City Council:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney issued a tentative ruling that says Palmdale must create four districts in which locals can elect their own folks to the council.

The Palmdale body is made up of representatives who have to be approved by voters citywide, where whites are the majority. However, some of those districts have so-called minority majorities that are shouted down in citywide elections but which could win seats locally.

Palmdale is 54 percent Latino and 15 percent African American, according to U.S. Census data. Though whites only make up about one in four residents, they dominate the council.

Mooney wrote in Juan Jauregui v. City of Palmdale that the current council was empowered "through an unlawful election:"

The citizens of the City of Palmdale are entitled to have a council that truly represents all members of the community. More importantly, the Latino and African American citizens of Palmdale deserve to have their voices heard in the operation of their city. This can only be accomplished if all members of the city council are lawfully elected. To permit some members of the council to remain who obtained their office through an unlawful election will not remedy the clear violation. Therefore the Court finds that in order to tailor an appropriate remedy to address the violation, the special district-based election is to be held for all four districts.

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Attorney R. Rex Parris represents plaintiff Jauregui and, as mayor of neighboring Lancaster, has long had beefs with Palmdale. Here's what he said in a statement today:

We are not surprised by the well thought out ruling by Judge Mooney. The effects of the City of Palmdale's at- large method of election were apparent and compelling to the court.

Some influential Latinos, meanwhile, want the Obama administration's Department of Justice to sue over L.A. County redistricting that continues to rule out more than one Latino representative on the five-member Board of Supervisors.

Latinos represent about one in every two county residents.

[Update at 3:16 p.m. Wednesday]: The city of Palmdale sent us a statement that says it will appeal the decision. Assistant City Attorney Noel Doran:

Although we disagree with the ruling itself, we are pleased that a decision was finally made so we could move forward with our appeal. The City of Palmdale is committed to protecting its citizens' constitutional right to determine the manner and method of electing their city leaders.

Noting that the city elected a black councilman in an at-large election last month, Palmdale spokesman John Mlynar says this is about R. Rex Parris' -- and his allies' -- alleged desire to control politics in a neighboring town while racking up attorney fees:

Now that Mr. Thompson's election destroyed their misguided theories by winning, they're changing their spin and are now saying 'it's not really about the complexion of the candidate, it's about giving minority voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, regardless of the skin color of that candidate.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.