This past week, the ACLU, representing Amin David, Jose Moreno (who is an ACSD Trustee) and Consuelo Garcia announced they were suing the city of Anaheim, claiming the current way the City Council is elected shuts out minority representation. They use as evidence the fact that the city is 52.5% Latino and yet has no Latino representation. They also point out four of the five councilmembers live in Anaheim hills, which contains only 1/6 of the city’s total population. It should be pointed out that the Mayor is one of the four and is elected citywide. They Plaintiffs are citing the California Voting Rights Act, which give minority populations protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the right to sue their city or area of jurisdiction when they can show that the current system of electing their representatives unfairly shuts them out of electing representatives of their choice.
The idea of switching from at-large elections to district elections is intriguing. I had the pleasure of working with some of the plaintiffs on the effort to ensure Latino friendly State Legislature and Congressional seats in Orange County and can attest that they have the best interests of the community at heart. Earlier this year, North Orange County Community College District and Rancho Santiago Community College District (an effort I was also proud to be a part of) switched to an at-district format for their seven trustees to comply with the California Voting Rights Act.
Anaheim is the 10th largest city in California and the largest city in California to elect their councilmembers at large. The majority of cities the same size elect their councilmembers by district/ward or have a hybrid system where they elected the entire city votes to elect their councilmembers but they are required to reside in several specific wards, Santa Ana is an example of this system. According to many political insiders, it had become not a matter of if, but when Anaheim would finally make the switch to some sort of district/ward system. It appears that time is now. So what would the districts look like? Will they go to the voters? How many would their be? Would they stay with the current number of Councilmembers and only have four districts or would they expand. There was an effort when Curt Pringle was Mayor to expand to six councilmembers, but did not have enough support on the Council.
While the lawsuit has been filed, the city has scheduled a community forum to be held at Anaheim City Hall on Wednesday, July 11th to get community input. At this point the city has a couple of options. They could fight the lawsuit, seek some sort of settlement with the plaintiffs, create their own district plan or go to the voters with an initiative this November. Fighting the lawsuit is a risk, as they could lose and be forced to create four districts. It should be pointed out the court can only require the governmental body to create districts based on the number of seats that current body has and cannot force Anaheim to expand the council to five, six or seven councilmembers with districts. But should a judge find them in violation of the California Voter Rights Act, they will need to switch to districts regardless if the outcome of a voter initiative in November is to keep the current system. If the outcome of a voter initiative is to switch to council districts this November, that would make the lawsuit moot, regardless of the number of council seats there are.
Now lets look at how the Council Districts would look like. There are several scenarios being thrown around that would either leave the Council at its current number of 4 or expand it to as many as 7 districts. Any plan that either leaves the number at four or expands to six councilmembers would obviously leave the Mayor as a voting member on the Council. An expansion to five or seven councilmembers would make the Mayor’s role on the Council moot and suggests that would change the Mayor’s role to that of a Chief Executive with potential veto power, in other words a Strong Mayor form of government. Now lets take a look at how these districts could potentially be shaped.
The four district plan would keep the current number of council seats in place but create four districts. The 2010 census population for Anaheim was 336,265, which would make the median for four districts by 84,066. An easy way to shape the four would be to have a North, South, East and West district. The population of the Hills is roughly 56,500 people and would drift into the flatlands area. Only one Section 2 Latino seat can be created under this plan, even though there would likely be two districts with a Latino majority population. The reason for such a variation between general population and CVAP(Citizen Voting Age Population) is due to the large number of Latino residents who are not yet citizens. A Section 2 seat is a district where a “protected minority”(African American, Latino, Asian or Native American) has 50% or more of the Citizen Voting Age Population. For example, the 69th Assembly District is a Section 2 protected seat.
The risk when it comes to creating these districts for Latinos is the unintentional packing of the population which limits the influence they may ultimately have on the entire governing body. A couple of strategic miscalculations in creating the current Assembly districts in Orange County ended up limiting Latino influence in Orange County. Where they could have had the plurality of influence in two Assembly districts, they only have the majority of the influence in one Assembly district. This is a risk if Section 2 is followed, which is a risk if the plaintiffs outright win in court. The judge is required by law to follow that criteria and create the Section 2 seat. Being strategic in creating those districts is key if the goal is to truly maximize the voting power of the Latino community of Anaheim. One challenge to creating these Section 2 seats is the Latino community is much more spread out through the flatlands of Anaheim. For example, a sizable portion of the Latinos in Anaheim live in what is considered “West Anaheim”, yet they do not comprise 50% of the total population and therefore an even smaller share of the CVAP. This section of the city is truly a multi-cultural area with a large Asian minority.
A plan to expand to six seats could create two Section 2 seats, and would also give Anaheim Hills their own seat, since the median population per district would be 56,044. Yet the potential is there to draw three districts with a Latino CVAP plurality. What is key is drawing these districts in a way that represents everyone’s interests. Plans to expand to five seats and make the mayor a “strong mayor” would still force Anaheim Hills to share some area with the flatlands. While a plan to expand to seven seats would require a portion of Anaheim Hills to be split since the median population per district would be 48,038.
What it will take to make sure the best possible outcome is reached for the people of Anaheim is for due diligence to be done in creating these districts. This means doing several drafts and visualizations, creating different scenarios and analyzing those scenarios and getting input from those in the know on this issue. Chances are the outcome will be a new system in Anaheim of electing their Councilmembers. The question is will it be done right? For the defendants, this may be a chance to show you are on the side of the people and do the right thing and come to an acceptable compromise. To the plaintiffs, this is your chance to complete the mission that began with the recall of Harald Martin, a chance to finally make the Latino working class community a force to be reckoned with, do not let personal grudges hold back the objective goal of better representation for your community. These could be done, but once again it is making sure it is done right and that can only be accomplished by doing the due diligence of drawing out several scenarios to determine which plan would serve Anaheim best. There is a way to do it, but it can only be done by taking the time to do the proper research into drawing these districts.