SMMUSD and City of Santa Monica Sue LA County Over Council Member Election System

Joint lawsuit challenges Senate Bill 442,

By Sam Catanzaro

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and the City of Santa Monica jointly filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization (County Committee) challenging the constitutionality of a law recently enacted state Senate Bill 442, which the city and SMMUSD say negatively impacts voters in Santa Monica and Malibu on how they elect their school board.

SB 442, which became effective January 1, 2022, authorizes the county committee, by resolution, to approve a proposal to establish trusteeship areas and elect board members using level elections. of the district without submitting the resolution to the voters of the city and the district for approval. In Santa Monica, for more than 100 years, the seven-member school board has been elected in general elections.

“This case is not about whether SMMUSD board members should continue to be elected at large or by the trusteeship districts. It’s about who should have the right to make that decision,” said school board president Maria Leon-Vazquez. “The City of Santa Monica and its District firmly believe that the decision to move to elections in the Trusteeship Area should be made by SMMUSD residents and voters, not by a committee of unelected representatives with little or no links with Santa Monica or Malibu. .”

The SMMUSD School Board voted unanimously in a March 17 closed session to move forward with this lawsuit. The City of Santa Monica voted 5-2 on February 8 to support SMMUSD and oppose voiding the city charter at any county committee hearing on school district organization and, if necessary, through litigation.

“For a charter city like Santa Monica, this law violates our sovereignty under the California Constitution and infringes on our municipal affairs,” said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “The community of Santa Monica has the right – with its votes – to make changes to the electoral system and the Santa Monica City Charter, not a committee with jurisdiction over Los Angeles County as a whole. “

The city and SMMUSD argue that the new law violates the California Constitution’s guarantee that charter cities like Santa Monica may provide in their municipal charters “how, when, and under what conditions school board members shall be elected or appointed”.

“In accordance with the Constitution of California, any change in the manner of electing members of the Board of Education from general elections to governing area elections requires an amendment to the Charter of the City of Santa Monica, and that to his turn can only occur if a majority of all qualified voters in the entire school district (Santa Monica and Malibu residents) approve of the change,” read a press release from SMMUSD. purported authority of SB 442, the county committee, prior to this lawsuit being filed, was set to hold a hearing to consider whether to effectively strike down section 900 of the city charter and mandate an election in the trusteeship area without submitting the proposed change to SMMUSD voters for their approval.

The county committee is a statutory body consisting of 11 members elected at an annual meeting of representatives of school district trustees, with at least two members to be elected from each county supervisory district. At least eight members of this 11-member committee have no connection to Santa Monica, Malibu or SMMUSD, support the city and SMMUSD.

“Because none of its members are elected by SMMUSD voters, the committee cannot be held accountable by those voters,” SMMUSD added.

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