The Fullerton City Council Tuesday approved a plan for involving city residents in the drawing of boundaries for new voting districts that will be in place for next year’s elections.
The council action comes as part of the city’s settlement in July of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit brought by the regional chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which alleged that the city’s current at-large electoral system disenfranchises Asian Americans and other minority residents.
The shape of the new boundaries will be largely determined during a series of meetings convened by city-hired consultant Dave Ely of Compass Demographics with “key stakeholders,” including the ACLU, Asian Americans for Justice and other local officials.
Residents are also invited to participate in the meetings. Further, the city provided Spanish and Korean translators at Tuesday’s meeting and will provide translators for those two languages as well as Mandarin and Vietnamese at the outreach meetings.
Ely, who attended the council meeting, cleared up a misconception of Councilwoman Jan Flory regarding whether the new districts would be drawn primarily along racial lines.
“Isn’t the whole thing racially based — Isn’t that why we’re all here?” Flory asked.
No, said Ely, “it’s about representation for different neighborhoods.” The main factors in determining boundaries, he said, would be income, education and other socioeconomic factors.
Sharon Quirk-Silva, former assemblywoman and former mayor of Fullerton, addressed the council during the public hearing on the issue at the council meeting. on the agenda, the item was listed as a public hearing within the council meeting.
“The real experts are … the people that live here in our community,” Quirk-Silva said. “Those are people that come from our neighborhoods; that work here, that live here. That’s why Fullerton’s hearings are so critical.”
Sean Paden, a member of the city’s Design Review Committee, was the only voice at the meeting against the outreach plans. He said special interests would end up controlling the process.
“Right now, everyone here (the public) has five city council votes. I can look at every single one of you in the eye and say, ‘Do what I tell you to do, or I vote you out next November.’ Everybody here can do that right now,” Paden said.
Paden claims that only the people with the campaign checks will receive the five votes. “The police union, the chamber of commerce … Cal State Fullerton, they still get five votes.”
Quirk-Silva refuted Paden’s claims during her public comment. “We will still be voting, but this is to increase participation … The truth is the transition to district elections is intended to protect those who, too often, doesn’t have a voice.”
Before the unanimous vote, Mayor Greg Sebourn instructed the city clerk to have a report on the progress of district boundaries as a recurring agenda item.
The meetings with the expert will start on Sept. 23 to 26 from 10:30 am to 6 p.m. at city hall. They will host a second round of meetings from Oct. 1-3 during the same timeframe. The city is expected to hold public hearings on the district boundary drawings in the fall.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern and student at Cal State Fullerton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.