State of California

California Santa Monica Electoral System Challenge

Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica

Lawsuit filed on behalf of the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) and a Latina voter who resides in Santa Monica challenging the at-large method used to elect members to the Santa Monica City Council. The plaintiffs argue that the at-large system was implemented to dilute the voting power of Latino voters in Santa Monica in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Latino residents made up 14% of the voting age population in Santa Monica. The plaintiffs also allege that the decision to change elections from district-based to at-large elections was intentionally implemented with discriminatory intent and therefore Sections 600 and/or 900 of the Santa Monica City Charter — which establishes the at-large system for city council elections —  violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

Following a six-week trial, in 2019, the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled in plaintiffs’ favor on both claims, but the defendants appealed to the California Court of Appeal. The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and held that Santa Monica did not violate the CVRA or the state constitution. After making its way through the California court system, on Aug. 24, 2023 the California Supreme Court upheld the CVRA, but did not reach a decision on whether Santa Monica’s at-large system violates the CVRA. Instead, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal “misconstrued” the CVRA by failing to evaluate if the plaintiffs’ votes were diluted under the CVRA using the proper legal standard.

On Feb. 9, 2024, the California Court of Appeal sent the case back to the trial court for further review consistent with the California Supreme Court’s standards.

STATUS: A hearing at the trial court in this case is scheduled for Aug. 2, 2024.

Case Documents (trial court)

Case Documents (Ca Court of appeals)

Case Documents (Ca supreme Court)

Last updated: