Anaheim Council Considering Ways to Settle ACLU Lawsuit

The Anaheim City Council early next year will consider settling a lawsuit against the city seeking to establish council districts and setting up a neighborhood improvement program funded by a portion of room tax revenue.

In his first council meeting, newly-elected City Councilman Jordan Brandman, keeping a promise made to the grassroots Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County, asked at Tuesday night’s council meeting that settling the lawsuit be placed on the next public agenda for discussion in closed session. He also requested a comprehensive review of the suit.

Council members met in closed session Tuesday night to discuss the lawsuit on but didn’t report any decisions.

Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Tait proposed a neighborhood improvement program that would spend a portion of city room tax revenues on things like parks, roads, sidewalks and libraries in historically underserved areas of Anaheim.

Both moves are overtures to the city’s Latino population, which comprises more than half the city’s residents. Tait’s proposal would require funding for neighborhood improvements like libraries and parks in working-class neighborhoods, Tait said.

The program existed at least informally in the 1990s but at some point ceased.

All five council members said they supported the idea.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, newly-elected Councilwoman Lucille Kring made a point of stating her support for the neighborhood program as completing a campaign pledge to voters.

“I know that residents in West Anaheim have specifically called for more attention to issues that they uniquely face in maintaining a better quality of life,” Tait said in making the proposal. “And there are other neighborhoods that, with a little more attention, can provide a safer, more liveable environment for the residents.”

Tait has yet to specify how such a program would function.

Transitioning to council districts, in which voters would elect only their district's council member, would likely satisfy the Latino community’s demand for more Latino council members.

After 20 downtown businesses were damaged during a riot fueled by frustration in poor Latino neighborhoods, city and business leaders have been recalculating their approach to the Latino community. Activists say Latinos have for too long been marginalized at City Hall.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees and has filed a lawsuit to force the city into complying with the 2002 California Voting Rights Act.

Latino leaders and the ACLU argue that by not requiring that council members be elected by districts, the city is violatig the law, which requires adequate representation for minorities.

Those opposed to council districts fear they will create mini-fiefdoms constantly warring for city resources. Many also argue that, with the current at-large election system, council members are accountable to all residents.

As it stands now, there are no Latino council members on the council.

The consequences of such lack of representation are that the resort district and an affluent eastern quarter of the city known as Anaheim Hills receive most of the city’s resources, activists argue.

For Brandman, the subject has been thorny.

During Brandman’s City Council campaign the former school board trustee visited a Los Amigos meeting and received an earful from Latino community leaders about past broken promises. Brandman promised to agendize settlement of the ACLU lawsuit and promised to support an ordinance requiring living wages, a commitment hailed as “huge” by Latino leaders.

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