The fact that the school board club has never had a Latino member is not an accident; not something that is just a coincidence or “is what it is.”

And under slightly different circumstances, it wouldn’t be very high on my radar, but as each year passes and the presence of Costa Mesa’s Westside Latino population looms larger as the schools there continue to flounder, one wonders how it can be.

The absence of a Latino board member representing Costa Mesa’s Westside is the result of years of exclusionary policies that have systematically reduced the number of viable Latino candidates.

The two key components of this policy are:

  1. At-large representation instead of Area (aka district) representation. In each election, voters in Newport Beach cast ballots in far greater numbers than the Latinos on the Westside, even though they are so far removed from the daily Westside life that they may as well be living in Chicago. Yet, the Newport Voters have a tremendous impact on the representative for Costa Mesa’s Westside.
  2. Meager compensation. Each school board club member is paid about $400 and change each month for their efforts. This cheap pay results in attracting only those who can afford to self-fund their club membership, due to the investment in time required to do an effective job. The Latinos on the Westside are overwhelmingly working class people – some holding down two jobs – who simply cannot afford to be a Trustee. So, we get representatives who are retired, who are well-off enough to self-fund, or who are self-employed and can create the hours required for the position. On the Westside, the Latino residents got Walt Davenport.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the compensation. That’s a rule that has to be changed in Sacramento. But the Area/district representation can be changed locally. Don’t look for any of the school board club members to recommend that anytime soon.

Why? Because they like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, their status quo discriminates against the very people who need their help the most. As far as I am concerned the at-large voting policy is a violation of the California Voting Rights Act. And if you think that it’s just me talking or that this is an anomaly, think again. Here’s the first paragraph of a story from thinkprogress.org:

“Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government.”

Here’s the link to the full story:¬†http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/03/05/3629788/at-large-systems-latino-vote-suppression/

Last time I checked, Costa Mesa was about 35% Latino, with the overwhelming majority living on the Westside.

The time has come for the school board club to police itself and switch to Area/district voting. But they won’t unless they are forced to in court. And unlike the Costa Mesa City Council, which put the at-large voting measure on the November ballot to avoid a lawsuit estimated at $3 million, the school board club will have no hesitation to spend that kind of tax money – and more – in a desperate attempt to prevent a Latino trustee and preserve the status quo.

How do I know? Outspending an opponent to defend itself and maintain the status quo is what they’ve always done. Just ask John Caldecott, Laura Boss, and Ann Huntington.

Steve Smith

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