Voters to Decide on Changing Anaheim’s Election System

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The city of Anaheim seal. (Photo by: Tracy Wood)

Anaheim voters will decide in November whether to create a council district electoral system and add two additional members to the City Council under a settlement agreement approved by the council Tuesday evening.

The settlement, approved unanimously, effectively ends a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Latino activists, who argued that the city’s at large voting system disenfranchises Latinos.

(Click here to read the settlement.)

If the new system is approved by voters, each council member would be elected within a specific geographic area, which the activists and ACLU lawyers say would guarantee representation on the council for Latinos

“It is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Tom Tait, who has supported single-member districts. “But frankly, I’m disappointed that it took so long for us to get there.”

Councilwoman Kris Murray called the deal “a win for our citizens, for our residents, for the taxpayers of Anaheim.”

The first vote under the district-based system would be in 2016.

A news conference with district election supporters is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Mayor Tait, members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, lawsuit plaintiffs and other residents plan to speak about the issue at 11 a.m. on the front steps of City Hall.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Tait and his colleagues argued over whether the case should have been settled much earlier.

Members of the council majority said they couldn’t have settled the case earlier because the plaintiffs were trying to sidestep the ballot measure.

“It’s extremely important that we hear from our citizens at the ballot box,” said Councilwoman Gail Eastman.

Tait countered that if the council had just placed the issue on the November 2012 ballot as he had asked in August of that year, the whole issue would have been “moot.”

“We would have saved over a million dollars and lots of time,” said Tait. “But unfortunately the majority of this council did not agree with my perspective, and we spent perhaps $2 million.”

Meanwhile, Councilman Jordan Brandman reiterated that he wants to see the city have district elections.

“I’m looking forward to this item being placed on the November 2014 ballot,” said Brandman.

“I’m hopeful that the voters will approve both of them,” he added.

The city has spent $1.2 million defending against the suit, said City Attorney Michael Houston.

And the city now is on the hook for the plaintiffs’ fees. The suit was brought by the ACLU and activists Jose Moreno, Amin David and Consuelo Garcia.

Houston said the city expects the plaintiffs to prove that their legal fees are accurate.

The next step for the council will be to formally place the measures on November’s ballot. That move is expected to happen before Feb. 7.

After what is sure to be a hard-fought campaign on both sides, voters will then decide on the issue Nov. 4.

If district elections are approved, the question then turns to where the district boundaries will be drawn.

Under the settlement, a nine-member citizens advisory committee would be set up to recommend the map lines.

The city hasn’t yet figured out how the advisory panel’s members would be selected, Houston said, though he said residents would likely be able to apply for a spot.

A final decision on the district boundaries would be made by the council.

If district elections are not approved in November, then the city would likely move on its previous path towards residency-based districts in 2016, Houston said.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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