When it comes to the task of redrawing the Ward Boundaries for Santa Ana, city officials have followed a confusing and nontransparent process that has left the public significantly uninformed and otherwise out of the loop.
For example; if it wasn’t for our digging, the public would have no idea that there are currently two proposals pending review and discussion at the City Council’s Public Hearing scheduled for December 19th. City officials have not sent a press release notifying the media that a second proposal was posted on Tuesday December 13th. The addition of the second proposal is hidden on the website under a December 1st press release that announced the rescheduling of the hearing from December 5th to December 19th. If you didn’t know to look, you wouldn’t know they were there. Further, the press release from December 1st did not even provide a link to the first proposal, simply directing people to the city website main page where there was no way to find the proposal unless you knew the actual page address.
The initial proposed maps have been altered at least twice since they were posted on November 15th. There has been no public notification that the proposal was altered, and more disturbingly, City staff have refused to provide the prior versions upon request to allow for independent comparison. City Clerk Maria Huizar told TheLiberalOC via email that “the proposed map did not change. The only difference was the neighborhood map on the last page had a different boundary line on Ward 4, hence it was wrong, and when we found out corrected that map. That was the only change.” I guess we’ll have to take her at her word.
While we’re on the topic of neighborhood maps, the current proposals split the Willard, Madison Park, Memorial Park, Santa Anita Park, Riverview West, Central City, Pico Lowell, and Downtown neighborhoods.
We had requested the city disclose the reason why the second proposal was released but they have not responded to our request for an explanation. So we had to go to city hall sources who declined to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the city.
Our sources tell us that Proposal #1, released on November 15th was not the proposal that was agreed upon by the redistricting committee members. It was an early draft version that the committee made changes to when the members met in person. The error was not discovered until we started asking questions. Once it was determined that the proposal was wrong, rather than deal with the confusion rescinding that version might create, staff simply chose to release Proposal #2 and have the council review both versions.
Bottom line, Proposal #2 is the one that the committee actually agreed upon when the members met. City staff has not disclosed any minutes or other records from the one time the committee met in person. Committee members have discussed the proposals amongst themselves and to staff individually throughout the process.
In contrast, the City of Newport Beach is also a Charter City and had to engage in a similar review of their district boundaries. Newport Beach however chose a different path, scheduling public meetings of their redistricting committee. The committee followed the Brown Act and publicly noticed all of their meetings as well as the 7 proposals the committee considered. Their process, including the meeting agendas, staff presentations and proposed maps, is easily accessible through their main website.
So while Santa Ana could have followed a transparent and public process, the proposed maps have been drawn 100% behind closed doors and without input from the public. At this time, the only opportunity the public will have to express their opinions on the Ward Boundary proposals will be at the December 19th hearing.
The meeting will occur in Council Chambers at City Hall after their closed session ends, probably around 6 pm.