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Negotiate an End to Santa Paula's Nightmare

Ventura County Perspective

December 10, 2000|JOHN PROCTER | John Procter is a Santa Paula City Council member

Those of us fortunate enough to live in Santa Paula have been blessed with our own special paradise replete with incredible vistas and the comfort of a climate that is truly one of the best on this Earth.

Although it is easy for the more fortunate among us to live contentedly within these worldly blessings, we would have to be blind not to see that there is trouble in paradise. The unfortunate fact is that we live in a flawed social climate. Despite the widely touted belief that "all men are created equal," we still find that there are many people who are historically disenfranchised.

This is the basis upon which the Department of Justice has brought a lawsuit against the city of Santa Paula citing violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and alleging discrimination against its Latino residents in an electoral process that has resulted in unproportional representation.

As a suggested remedy, the Justice Department has called for the adoption of a single-member district system that would create two "Hispanic majority districts" in hopes that our Latino residents would then have "the ability to elect the candidates of their choice" from within those districts.

It does not logically follow that the Justice Department is indicting the current "at-large" election system as the sole culprit for past inequities. I sat by in silent bemusement as this became the misguided focus for unwarranted defensive reactions on the part of our City Council majority in proclaiming their innocence regarding their role in an electoral process that predates them by more than a century. My fear is that they fell prey to well-crafted legal advice that steered them on an unwavering course of opposition perpetuating the need for further legal services.

I have never doubted that the Justice Department found fertile ground for making its case in Santa Paula, and I wholeheartedly embrace the noble intent of the Voting Rights Act. However, I have to seriously question the wisdom and efficacy of an edict that theoretically would provide only two Latino seats on a five-member City Council, particularly when we are on the cusp of a Latino majority in terms of voter eligibility. Because of this, my biggest fear is that this course of action could lock us into a process that might actually subvert its founding premise and ultimately grant no real power at all--only a false sense of it.

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Although I think the Justice Department has properly diagnosed an illness, I am not so sure it has prescribed the right cure. In fact, I have serious doubts that the cure can be brought about by legislation. I think that the true remedy has to come from within us as a community. It can only come from the collective awareness of our problems and the realization that we are all in this together. Only this will result in a much needed awakening of the spirit of unity.

In the bigger picture, it is just as irresponsible to take a hard-line stance in dismissing these charges as it is to attribute them to some long-running local conspiracy. For better or worse, we are all part of a much larger social fabric that has brought us to where we are today.

Philosophical discussions aside, my position on this issue is much less important than that which is for the greater good of Santa Paula. The bottom-line reality that our city must face is that we are in the throes of a legal nightmare that is a black hole of litigation and attendant legal costs. We need to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department as soon as possible.

It is time to stop the bleeding and let the healing begin.

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