(Fullerton, CA) — The City of Fullerton must develop a district-based system for electing its city council and present it for voter approval, as part of a settlement in a lawsuit charging that existing at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit settled Wednesday alleged that at-large elections deny the city’s sizable Asian American population and other minority communities the ability to exercise their collective voting power to elect their candidates of choice and have a voice in how their city is governed.
The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), the Law Office of Robert Rubin, and Sidley Austin LLP brought the lawsuit in March on behalf of Fullerton resident Jonathan Paik.
As part of the settlement, the city must include extensive community input into the potential district lines. Fullerton officials must hold two sets of community meetings in each of the city’s four geographic quadrants to get community input on how district lines should be drawn. City officials must then hold three public hearings on district-based mapping proposals.
“I’m happy this case was resolved without the need for protracted litigation and am hopeful that the residents of Fullerton will vote for district-based elections,” said Paik. “District-based elections will help local communities build new and lasting relationships with elected representatives who are responsive to our local concerns.”
The agreement also requires that a demographics expert be hired to lead the community engagement process, and draw up mapping proposals for approval by the city council. Only after the community has the opportunity to provide input will Fullerton voters be asked to approve a district-based election system in the November 2016 election.
“We hope the residents of Fullerton will come out in full force during the community meetings to inform the City how they define their neighborhoods and communities of interest,” said Deanna Kitimura, supervising attorney for Advancing Justice-LA’s Democracy Project. “We will be monitoring the mapping process and advocating that communities are kept whole during the line drawing process.”
District-based elections would require each of the council members to live in the district they represent, and be elected by voters in that district.
“The City of Fullerton has taken the first step in ensuring that all communities, including Asian American and Latino communities, have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, Director of the Orange County and Inland Empire offices of ACLU SoCal. “A city is stronger when residents feel heard through the democratic process.”