Plaintiffs Discuss Voting Rights Act Lawsuits Against Santa Clarita, School Districts
KHTS AM-1220 interviewed Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser on Aug. 29, to discuss their lawsuits against the city of Santa Clarita, the Sulphur Springs School District and the Santa Clarita Community College District.
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The pair discussed their reasons for the filings of the lawsuits that alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act by three local governing boards.
They also addressed accusations that their suit was “a money grab” for an “out-of-town lawyer,” and explained why they chose the lawsuits they did.
For Soliz, his motivation was to right wrongs he perceived as going on throughout the city, and the community college board, specifically, said the Texas native who also lived in East Los Angeles before moving to the Santa Clarita Valley years ago.
He became aware of issues more than seven years ago, and saw things get progressively worse, he said.
He mentioned Tresierras, a Newhall market that’s part of a Sylmar-based chain, struggle to expand, while a large chain was able to move into the area and open new stores.
The “speed and dexterity” with which a large corporation was able to displace a small, family-owned chain was alarming, Soliz said.
“And in the wake of that, the issue of immigration happened, it really started to percolate,” he said.
“I don’t know of any intelligent, sensible Latino, Mexicano who wasn’t watching that issue, and watching the fury around it. And, of course, the fury reached here in Santa Clarita,” Soliz said, describing the infamous 2010 Minuteman rally where Mayor Bob Kellar described himself as a “proud racist.”
“At that point, I realized it wasn’t just about undocumented people, human beings -- there was something else happening,” Soliz said.
“In all this time since the California Voting Rights Act had been initiated, the city and the community college had made no effort to go out and integrate the board,” he said. “In other words, to desegregate the board.”
Sanchez-Fraser, who’s vice president of the Santa Clarita Valley Democratic Club, became involved in the suits because she had become involved in activism after retiring from the nursing industry.
“The (SCV Democratic Club) is a small club, but it’s very much into education of the people here, so it filled a little niche that I needed,” said, Sanchez-Fraser, who’s lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for almost 40 years. “And I thought, ‘You know, it’s true, we don’t have any representation for the Latinos, Mexicanos in our city and they’re all over the place. We’re very visible but invisible.”
Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser addressed accusations that they were sought out by Shenkman, whose motivation was bilking local government for legal fees.
Soliz was looking for a way to right the wrong when he heard about attorney Kevin Shenkman suing the city of Palmdale over similar issues he saw in Santa Clarita, he said.
“I said to myself, ‘Holy cow, this is what I’ve been looking for,” he said, describing how he sought out Shenkman. “I said, ‘Who? From where? Malibu?’ When you’re drowning, and you’re reaching for a hand, you don’t really care what color the hand is, or whether it’s greasy or not, or whatever. You reach and you grab.”
As far as the lawsuits only helping an attorney achieve larger legal fees, Soliz said that criticism was “dishonest.”
“Can you really put a price tag on honesty? That’s the question. More importantly, what’s the price of equality,” Soliz said. “This isn’t about money. Money has nothing to do with it. What this is about is desegregating a community -- about bringing a community into the 20th century.”
When asked about whether there may be more lawsuits coming, Soliz acknowledged that there was a representative on the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board, but he also said that one representative, whether that person is on city council or a school district governing board, doesn’t equate to integration.
“That comes when you have ‘de colores’ -- everybody,” Soliz said.
“We just want representation,” Sanchez-Fraser said. “There’s been injustice here for so long and now, it’s against the law.”
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