Claims of racially polarizing Latino voters led to a lawsuit against the Cerritos Community College District by a former trustee and a former trustee candidate on Sept. 28.
According to Cerritos College President Linda Lacy, the lawsuit can impact students directly.
"Now we have to pay for attorneys and every time the district has to pay attorney fees, it comes right out of classroom-money for our students," Lacy said.
With former trustee Carmen Avalos and board candidate Tom Chavez, district voter Leonard Zuniga joined the "Latino Voters Challenge," against the district.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the board was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, in which prohibits "at-large," elections for governing board members.
The lawsuit claims that since 2003 there has never been more than a single Latino board member at a time and that the district is made up of 50% Latinos.
Chavez claims that in the 50-square miles of the district, three board members live within two miles of each other.
The lawsuit was necessary
The lawsuit was unnecessary
The plaintiffs could have waited for the district to take action
I don't care
5 total votes.
"The city of Cerritos has been dictating who gets on to the board even though there are many other cities involved," Chavez said.
Board of Trustee Vice President Bob Arthur was in attendance at Wednesday's board meeting in which the agenda was revised because of the lawsuit.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the three plaintiffs, I know each of those individuals personally," Arthur said. "This lawsuit has the potential to cost the district thousands of dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands or more."
Zuniga feels the "at-large" system is unfair to voters of the Latino race who live in cities outside of the city of Cerritos, but within district lines.
"Out of the 12 cities [in the district], only two or three [are] being represented," Zuniga said. "We would like to see it [the district] being broken up into two districts."
According to the lawsuit filed by the firm of Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, the plaintiffs and lawyers claim that studies of elections over the last 15 years show the prohibited acts in which the Board is being sued over.
Resolution 11-20 was selected by the board at Wednesday's board meeting, which would initiate a proposal to adopt "by-trustee area," elections.
"If it is an improvement to the Cerritos Community College District, in better serving our students, then that's the action this board will take," Arthur said.
The next board election will be held in 13 months, plenty of time for the board to address the issue, according to Arthur.
"It is my opinion that this lawsuit is just a gimmick in a sense and the law firm in question is basically looking to collect fees. Looking for a payday," he said.
Lacy states that the board is not disagreeing with the concept of area election but they are disagreeing with the fact that the lawsuit was filed after the board had already taken action.
"I think it's a frivolous lawsuit, because the board was already acting prudently in a good conscience to make this happen," Lacy said.