Complaint Alleges Racial Bias in Palmdale Elections

Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2013

Latinos and African Americans make up about two-thirds of the population of Palmdale. But since the city’s incorporation in August 1962, not a single black resident and only one Latino has ever served on the City Council.

That’s the backdrop of a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Antelope Valley civil rights activists alleging racial bias in city elections in this High Desert locale. The complaint argues that Palmdale’s system of at-large council seats dilutes the influence of minority voters.

“Latinos and African Americans are locked out of the political system in the city of Palmdale,” said Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who is representing plaintiff Juan Jauregui, a Palmdale resident. Three local black activists and the NAACP have also said they will join the case, scheduled to go to trial in May.

The litigation is the latest in a series of racially themed conflicts in the Antelope Valley as blacks and Latinos have moved into once mostly white areas. Housing programs and police practices have been flash points as activists have challenged policies they perceive as unfairly targeting minority residents.

Plaintiffs say the city’s at-large election system violates the state’s 2001 Voting Rights Act, which guards against disenfranchisement of minorities. They seek a change to district-by-district voting.

Palmdale is fighting back. In court documents, city attorneys argue that because blacks and Latinos are a majority of registered voters in the city, they are “in a position, numerically” to elect the mayor and City Council members.

The lawyers also insist that district voting would not have helped minority candidates who lost. “They simply had very little support from voters, and no drawing or gerrymandering of districts would have resulted in a district which would have elected them,” the attorneys said.

Moreover, in November 2001 Palmdale’s residents voted against a measure to introduce district voting. {snip}


Traditionally, low voter turnout among blacks and Latinos in Palmdale’s municipal elections has shrunk their voting power compared with that of whites, who turn out in greater numbers, statistics show.

The majority of Palmdale Latinos voted yes for district elections in 2001, but the measure was defeated because 66% of whites opposed it, according to data compiled by a city consultant and cited by Shenkman.


Race isn’t everything, agreed Darren Parker, who as chairman of the California Democratic Party’s African American caucus helps recruit potential minority candidates to run for local office, but he said High Desert cities need black voices in leadership.

“I don’t believe that anyone who doesn’t get up in the morning and look like me can really walk in my shoes,” Parker said.


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