The California and U.S. Voting Rights Acts require municipal districts and cities to review their voting processes to ensure that minority populations are not disenfranchised by that process. With the results of the U.S. Census in, Rancho Santiago Community College District was faced with what could be a problem. While the district has a significant minority population, those elected to the Board of Trustees do not reflect the demographics of that population. As an example, the three individuals representing the predominately minority Area 1 are all White. In fact, they live in the same neighborhood within about half a mile from each other. The district’s election process was an at-large election with candidates living in a specific assigned area with the top three vote-getters being elected in Areas 1 and 3 while the top vote getter would be elected in Area 2. As a result, the three Area 1 representatives all lived within a stones throw of each other. This was a voting rights lawsuit waiting to happen.
In an effort to better comply with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees voted 5-2 on Monday to approve new lines creating seven (7) individual districts replacing the existing three (3) areas. A side-effect of this action is that the three current trustees representing Area 1, will be competing for the same seat in November.
The odd numbered districts will elect their trustees in November 2012. Districts 1 and 3 have no incumbent trustee and are therefore open seats. Trustees R. David Chapel, Mark McLoughlin, and Brian Conley all reside in District 5. Arianna Barrios will be the incumbent running in District 7. The even numbered districts will elect their trustees in November 2014; John Hanna in District 2, Larry Labrado in District4, and Phil Yarbrough in District 6.
“The newly created trustee area boundaries were formed with the full participation and input of the community,” said RSCCD Board of Trustees President Phillip E. Yarbrough. “These boundaries will allow for a comprehensive representation to continue the district’s commitment to education and the students we serve.”
On February 6, 2012, the RSCCD Board of Trustees approved amendments to board policies changing the past at-large method of electing trustees to elections by individual trustee areas. That action increased the number of trustee areas from three to seven. At the February 27, 2012, meeting the Board issued a contract with National Demographics Corporation to review the district’s demographic data from the 2010 U.S. Census and propose a variety of options for the seven trustee areas. Prior to that on March 26, 2012, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges approved a resolution paving the way for RSCCD to change from at-large to trustee area elections.
The following criteria were utilized in the development of the new trustee area boundaries:
- Communities of interest;
- Visible (natural and man-made) boundaries;
- Compactness and contiguity;
- Continuity in office;
- Population growth;
- Preserve the core of existing districts; and
- No dilution of protected classes which impairs its ability to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.
Several proposals were presented to the Board for consideration, including a proposal from Trustee Chapel, meant to preserve his seat and those of his floral park neighbors, Trustees McLoughlin and Conley. One of the proposed maps was submitted by Trustee McLoughlin. Rumors spread throughout the community that the McLoughlin proposal, submitted just prior to the meeting, was meant to carve out a seat for Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez to walk into once she is termed out on the city council.
Gustavo Arellano at OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog wrote about the efforts of Trustee Chapel to rally support for his proposal to keep the status quo.
“What Chapel doesn’t mention is that he and McLoughlin both live in SanTana’s ritzy Floral Park, as does another trustee. In fact, property records reviewed by the Weekly show that Chapel and McLoughlin live less than a half-mile away from each other; in essence, Chapel wants a gerrymandering of preposterous proportions.”
The selected proposal was drafted and submitted by Santa Ana College Alumni Claudio Gallegos, a redistricting expert and former blogger for LiberalOC. The new boundaries meet the requirements of the U.S. and California voting rights acts, by preventing the dilution of the opportunities for Latino representation on the board. The new maps carve out seven districts including two districts, without incumbents, with a significant majorities in Latino population and voter registration. There’s no gerrymandering with these new districts. The voters will have the opportunity to vote for individual trustees to represent individual districts rather than the top three vote-getters in an area.
In the end, no amount of whining on the part of Trustee Chapel could change the course of history. The vote for democracy and minority opportunity was 5-2, with Chapel and McLoughlin voting no. And to those who thought that a free-ride district would be carved out for Councilwoman Alvarez; that didn’t happen. If Alvarez chooses to run for trustee, based upon her current address, she will have to run in District 5 against up to three incumbents.
UPDATED — Below is the map of the approved district boundaries effective with the November 2012 election. Click on image for larger view and demographic details.