Anaheim restarts the process of revamping elections

The Anaheim City Council decides to hold additional public hearings to consider new district-voting maps with two Latino majority districts, instead of one. December 15, 2015.
The Anaheim City Council decides to hold additional public hearings to consider new district-voting maps with two Latino majority districts, instead of one. December 15, 2015.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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The Anaheim City Council Tuesday once again takes up a question that many thought was decided months ago: how to split the city into voting districts.

Last month, the council declined to adopt a map for district-based elections crafted by a committee of retired judges and supported by many local community groups. The decision came as a blow to many of the advocates who'd fought for dividing the city into districts to elect council seats — and has put the council on the spot to come up with a new map quickly. 

"They're a little bit more on a sprint, whereas we were on a marathon," said Nancy Stock, one of five retired judges who spent months and 10 public meetings drawing the rejected map. 

That map contained only one Latino majority in central Anaheim with two plurality districts where citizen voting age Latinos make up 47 percent and 44 percent. Community groups supported the map because it gave Latinos a chance to elect up to three candidates of their choice by combining their voting influence with other minority and neighborhood groups.

Council members, however, insist the proposed map with only one Latino majority district is inadequate. 

"Majorities, majority (citizen voting age population) is what the spirit of the California Voting Rights Act wants us to accomplish and that is what I'm trying to get at," Council Member Jordan Brandman told KPCC after a December 15 council meeting.

Disagreement over how to make for fair elections in Orange County's most populous city stems back years. The city's finally settled on phasing out its at-large voting system and installing district-based elections, in which city council candidates and voters must live in a certain district in order to represent and vote for the area.

But it's been a long process, started with a 2012 lawsuit, that's just gotten longer.

Tuesday's is the first of three more public hearings called by the City Council to consider new maps that have two districts where Latinos make up more up than half of the citizen voting age population. There are about 18 maps like that.

The council also has to decide which four of the six districts will go up for election in November.

That could be a tricky decision.

The Anaheim City Council seemed happy with committee's six-district map recommendation until it came time to decide which of the four of the newly created districts would be up first for election first.

Three council members wanted the only Latino majority district to wait until 2018, an off-presidential election cycle, to choose a candidate. That infuriated Latino, community and union activists and generated legal threats.

In response, Brandman proposed reexamining maps that have two Latino majority districts so that one would go up for election in November and the other in 2018.

Stock expressed concern about how long it is taking to settle the redistricting process. She also defended the map the council rejected in December. 

The committee held 10 public meetings last year with the help of the city’s demographic consultant and lawyers. Stock said she felt satisfied with the process and the recommendation to the council.

Stock said the  2010 Census the committee was required to use was dated, however. A demographic consultant told the committee that the Latino citizen voting age population is growing by a significant percentage each year in Anaheim. 

“It’s highly likely there may actually, currently be two majority districts,” Stock said. “That is one of the factors that the city council will have to consider if they are concerned with whether there are sufficient numbers of majority Latino districts.”

Although the City Council will be discuss new maps on Tuesday there's an opportunity for them to still consider the original map, recommended by the committee, but rejected last month by the council.

In the last week, an online petition has appeared in support of West Anaheim residents, living in what would be districts 1 and 2 on the rejected map arguing for their neighborhoods to be represented in the November elections, as council members Brandman, Kris Murray and Lucille Kring have advocated.

“It is absolutely vital that Districts 1 and 2 be included in the 2016 election given that residents in what currently encompasses West Anaheim have not had neighborhood representation in nearly two decades — less than any other proposed district in Anaheim,” the petition said.

About 85 people have signed it, so far.

The City Council must approve a district-voting map by July in order to hold elections in November.

Two more public hearings are scheduled for January 26 and February 9.