Santa Clarita Valley voters made a change Tuesday when they retired longtime Hart School Board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine and replaced her with first-time challenger Linda Storli-Koontz.
With all precincts reporting, Storli-Koontz garnered 1,193 votes (56.65 percent) to Mercado-Fortine’s 913 votes (43.35 percent).
Storli-Koontz, a retired Canyon High School civics teacher, challenged Mercado-Fortine, a school administrator, in the Hart District’s first-ever election for Trustee Area 1. The area includes parts of Valencia (where Mercado-Fortine lives) as well as Castaic, Val Verde and Tesoro del Valle (where Storli-Koontz lives).
The school board voted earlier this year to divide the district into trustee areas to satisfy a threatened California Voting Rights Act lawsuit. A Malibu attorney alleged that the Hart District’s previous at-large election system disenfranchised Latino residents by diluting the Latino vote.
In practice, the move had the opposite effect. Latino voters in Newhall, who would have been able to vote under the at-large system, didn’t get to vote for the school board at all on Tuesday.
And Mercado-Fortine, who is Latino, lost the seat under the new trustee-area system after winning all but one of her previous bids for the Hart Board as an at-large candidate.
Mercado-Fortine was the only board member to vote against the switch to trustee-area elections.
Storli-Koontz is no stranger to Santa Clarita’s political scene. She served on the city of Santa Clarita’s first Parks Commission and previously ran for City Council. She had long expressed an interest in running for the Hart School Board once she retired from her teaching position in the district, which she did earlier this year. She is also a Realtor.
Incumbent Steve Sturgeon handily won reelection to the Hart Board on Tuesday night as the representative of the newly crafted Trustee Area 4, which is primarily Canyon Country. Sturgeon tallied 1,313 votes (61.85 percent) to his 19-year-old challenger Andrew Taban’s 810 votes (38.15 percent).
Finally, both incumbents on the Newhall County Water Board will be returning for four more years despite a strong challenge from business owner Don Cruikshank. It was a virtual three-way tie for much of the evening as the votes were tabulated, but when the dust settled, veteran water board member and environmental advocate Lynne Plambeck finished first with 960 votes (28.67 percent), while Dan Mortensen garnered 941 votes (28.1 percent) to keep his seat.
Out of the running were Cruikshank (892 votes, 26.63 percent) and Jeff Ford (556 votes, 16.6 percent).