Facing a lawsuit from a Malibu attorney who claims their at-large city council districts violate the California Voting Rights Act, the city of Cypress has yet to issue public comments on a future course of action.
At their Sept. 27 meeting, however, the Council did have the item on a closed session agenda, however legal counsel Fred Galante reported that “there had not been a quorum” just at the time the Council was to discuss the matter, so it was not discussed.
However, the council said another matter, an “organics recycling program” had been “so exciting,” that their regular meeting was delayed as the council did have a quorum to discuss. Galante provided no further specificity about who was missing. It takes only three members for a quorum.
The city council convened the closed session, said Galante, without discussing the first item on the closed session agenda.
“There had not been a quorum to hold that discussion. The item was entitled “conference with legal counsel” to discuss “anticipated litigation,” which Galante said was listed as “one potential case” with “significant exposure to litigation.”
At their Oct. 11 meeting, Galante reported on the closed session, saying again it was “anticipated litigation under the heading of significant exposure to litigation.”
He reported the “matter is a claim of a California Voting Rights violation from Southwest Voter Education Project.” Galante conceded only that the city “received a briefing that the threat of litigation [exists] and there was no reportable action.”
In a letter to the City of Cypress dated Sept. 17, Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman informed the Cypress Council that “voting within the City is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution, and, therefore, the City’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (“CVRA”).”
“The CVRA disfavors the use of so-called ·’at-large’’ voting – an election method that permits voters of an entire jurisdiction to elect candidates to each open seat,” said Shenkman in the four-page letter, “because they often result in vote dilution.”
“The (Cypress) City Council’s recent difficulty with adopting even a resolution acknowledging the Asian American community and encouraging their participation in the City, and then its blanket refusal to show support for another minority community (LGBTQ), is also telling,” said Shenkman’s letter.
“Based upon recent data from the American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Department, Asians comprise 35.2% of the City’s population of 49,006. The current complete absence of Asian representation on the City’s governing board is revealing,” claims Shenkman’s letter.
The attorney’s letter also cites examples of communities wasting “millions” of dollars fighting in court, suggesting his firm has never lost a case of this type and predicts they won’t lose this one, if tested.
To establish a CVRA violation, Shenkman said “a plaintiff must generally show that racially polarized voting occurs in elections for members of the governing body of the political subdivision or in elections incorporating other electoral choices by the voters of the political subdivision.”
“Given the racially polarized elections for Cypress’ city council elections, we urge the city to voluntarily change its at-large system of electing its city council. Otherwise, on behalf of residents within the jurisdiction, we will be forced to seek judicial relief,” said Shenkman in the correspondence.
According to the terms of the letter, the Cypress Council must decide by Nov. 7 to fight the lawsuit in court, for which taxpayers will foot the bill, or simply negotiate a process that will satisfy potential CVRA violation, which could mean an end to at-large districts in the city.
Nevertheless, Galante said at the council’s most recent meeting that due to a lack of a quorum, there was “no reportable action” on the matter and the council was expected to go into closed session this past Monday to discuss it.
In other action Sept. 27, the Cypress Council:
• Received thanks from a representative of the Second Harvest Food Bank in Irvine, for their support of the OC Hunger Alliance. About 250,000 OC residents “are relying on food banks for their sustenance” they were told. The council recognized hunger action month.
• Heard Chief of Police Mark Lauderback introducing new officers that joined the force during COVID but were never properly introduced to the city, including Officer Christopher Reihanifam, the force’s newest officer, and “Bono” the new Belgium Shepherd, the department’s new police dog, and his handler, Officer Mermer. “He came over to us from the Netherlands. He understands Dutch and speaks dog,” Mermer said.