Anaheim Gets Its Debate Over New Council Districts

A politically charged Anaheim City Council meeting scheduled for next week will go forward, despite concern from some residents that the gathering could spark another riot and speculation from Councilwoman Lorri Galloway that the council majority would attempt to cancel it altogether.

Instead, there’s already an indication that the council majority is formulating its own alternative to the ballot measure seeking to establish council districts, with council members on Thursday agreeing to agendize a proposal from Councilwoman Kris Murray that would instead create a citizen commission to review “the electoral process in Anaheim.”

Council members met about four hours in closed session Thursday and discussed with Police Chief John Welter the safety risks of next week’s meeting, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 8 in Cook Auditorium at Anaheim High School.

After the closed session, council members also announced their decision to hire two law firms — Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo; and Nielsen, Merksamer, Parranello, Gross & Leoni — to represent the city in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking the creation of council districts.

Thursday’s closed-door meeting had been called by the council majority of Murray, Gail Eastman and Harry Sidhu.

Galloway had speculated that the briefing from Welter was a ruse to justify canceling the Aug. 8 meeting.

Murray refuted Galloway’s claim, saying that no such plan existed and that Galloway’s statements were “inherently political.”

About 60 people attended the public comments portion of the meeting, including a large contingent from print and broadcast media.

Numerous speakers expressed concerns about having a forum at the auditorium when anger is still prevalent in the Latino community after recent police shootings led to violent confrontations.

“We’re setting ourselves up for another one of these riot incidents, and nothing will be accomplished this way,” said Richard Olquin, who runs a small business on Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim. He added that the forum would place the city in “grave danger.”

About 1,000 residents last Tuesday rioted in the downtown, damaging police vehicles and 20 downtown businesses, after many angry residents were denied entry at the City Council meeting because the council chamber audience was at maximum capacity.

The protesters were incensed over police shootings the previous weekend that killed two young Latino men and a subsequent clash between police and residents of Anna Drive, the neighborhood where an unarmed Latino man was shot and killed that Saturday. Police officers had fired beanbags and unleashed a police dog on a crowd that was throwing rocks and bottles at officers.

Welter told a group of reporters that he expects about 1,000 people again to attend the auditorium meeting but that most would be peaceful.

Mayor Tom Tait, who had called next week’s meeting, said it was needed to begin easing the unrest in the city.

“We are here to listen to the Anaheim community," Tait said. "It’s the first step to coming to solutions. It’s the first step to healing.”

Some relatives of police shooting victims in previous years also spoke out, saying that the police department was in dire need of reform.

“We need to clean up the Anaheim Police Department from the top down,” said Barbara Kordiak, whose grandson Justin Hertl was shot to death by undercover police officers in 2003.

Cori Klein accused officers of taunting her about her brother’s death at the hands of police officers in 2007. She said the officer who killed Joe Whitehouse, her brother, waved at her and smiled at her during a recent protest.

“He [the officer] knew it was me. There was no covering it up,” Klein said.

Other residents spoke about a proposal and a lawsuit from the ACLU to change the city’s at-large election system to election by council districts. The transition would have voters elect only candidates that live in their neighborhoods.

Some residents said council districts were necessary to have council members who would be accountable to working-class Latinos, who constitue 54 percent of the city’s population. Four of the five sitting council members live in well-to-do Anaheim Hills, and none are Latino.

Others argued that implementing council districts would reduce accountability, because residents could vote out only the council members who live in their districts.

“It breaks my heart that today is a day when so much emphasis is placed on skin color,” said resident Sandy Day, referring to the contention that Latinos are underrepresented. “I want five council members accountable to me, not just one,” she said.

Council members at next week’s auditorium meeting are scheduled to consider approving a November ballot measure that would create six council districts. They will also consider Murray’s proposal to create an electoral study commission as an alternative to the ballot measure advocated by Tait.

The council is also expected to consider another ballot measure that would require voter approval of future hotel room tax subsidies, a response to a controversial $158-million tax subsidy granted to the developer of two four-star hotels.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Anaheim business owner Richard Olquin was a resident of the city. We regret the error.

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