Anaheim City Council Stalls Transition to District Elections

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Outrage filled the chambers of the Anaheim City Council Tuesday night after the council majority decided to set back the city’s historic transition to a districts-based election system and scrap a previously approved districts map that had broad community support.

Dozens of residents and activists repeatedly chanted “shame on you” following the split 3-2 vote as they walked out of the chambers. Angry chatter could still be heard coming from the City Hall lobby for several minutes after the vote.

The vote went along familiar lines, with councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring, and Councilman Jordan Brandman voting in the majority; while Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt dissented.

The hectic scene was the latest chapter in an election system transition that was supposed to wrap up Tuesday night but instead has become a roller coaster of emotions for supporters of switching from electing council members at-large to electing them by district.

Moving to districts-based elections is required under a settlement between the city and Latino activists stemming from a state Voting Rights Act lawsuit. The suit, filed by Latino activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, contended that Latino residents have been disenfranchised under the city’s at-large election system.

In October, residents were jubilant when council members adopted district boundaries in what was dubbed “the people’s map” because many believed it perfectly balanced various communities and interests in the city, and there was virtually no opposition.

But then controversy erupted when the council majority, in another 3-2 vote on Nov. 17, decided to exclude the only Latino majority district from the 2016 election and have it instead elect its first council member in 2018. The move angered supporters of districts-based elections, who accused Murray, Kring, and Brandman of subverting the lawsuit settlement.

The council majority contended that Latinos in the district already had adequate representation with Councilman James Vanderbilt, who has a white father and Peruvian mother. They also pointed out that nobody from the west end of the city had been elected in decades, and said it would be more equitable to have two districts there go up for election first.

However, Vanderbilt on Tuesday night announced that he had moved out of the district.

Latino activists and others in the community scoffed at that argument, with Brandman — the council majority’s only registered Democrat — taking the most heat. On Nov. 24, the local Democratic Central Committee condemned Brandman for his vote to exclude the Latino majority district.

Then, last week, a coalition of state and national Latino organizations — lead by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) — sent a letter to the council that accused council members of “intentional discrimination” with their vote to exclude the Latino majority district, and threatened further legal action.

Dozens of residents and activists attended the council meeting Tuesday night and described their frustration at having a decades-long era of political disenfranchisement seemingly over, only to see it extended for another two years. Several called the move a “slap in the face.”

“I don’t have words to describe my disillusionment,” resident Maria Munoz told the council in Spanish. “It’s shameful that three council members left out of the next voting cycle my district three.”

After public comments finished, Brandman proposed an alternative that both bewildered and infuriated meeting attendees. Reading from a prepared statement, Brandman said that, after some reflection, he concluded that the districts map that was praised so much and by so many was actually the source of all the acrimony.

“In the time since it has become clear to me that we have a problem. The problem is not the sequencing… the problem is the map that was recommended,” Brandman said.

Brandman reasoned that, with only one Latino majority citizen voting age population district, the map forced the council to pick between the aspirations of Latino residents and equitable representation for other parts of the city that haven’t seen many residents elected to council.

He also cited the MALDEF letter and asserted that adopting a map with only one Latino majority citizen voting age population district would open up the city to a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

Brandman’s claims triggered a tense debate among council members, with frustrated audience members often chiming in to register their opinions.

When Brandman said the current map wasn’t in the best interests of the city, it was met with shouts of “no way” and “you mean best interests of Disneyland,” reflecting the suspicion among many in the crowd that Brandman and other members of the council majority were doing Disneyland’s bidding because the resort spends hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting their candidacies.

A substantial portion of the debate centered around whether the letter from MALDEF said that adopting a map with only one Latino majority citizen voting age population would open the door to lawsuits. Brandman insisted it did, but the letter doesn’t explicitly say that.

Tait said it was “almost Orwellian” to claim that the MALDEF letter could be read to mean that city leaders should adopt a new map.

City Attorney Michael Houston acknowledged that the MALDEF letter didn’t explicitly say that council members should adopt a new map, but said that, “between the lines,” it did contain what he believed was a “veiled threat” that only a “paranoid” lawyer like himself who stays up late at night thinking about these things could see.

Essentially, Houston said MALDEF’s position appeared to be that city leaders needed to put the Latino majority district up for election in 2016 and, if they don’t, their second position was they need to adopt a map with at least two Latino majority citizen voting age population districts.

However, after a few exchanges with Tait, Houston agreed that the letter clearly said MALDEF wouldn’t sue should the council decide to put the Latino majority district up for election in 2016.

Despite Houston’s reassurances, Brandman and the council majority went ahead with the plan to scrap “the peoples’ map” and choose a different map with at least two Latino majority citizen voting age population districts. They postponed the choice indefinitely until the U.S. Census comes out with new figures early next year.

The city will have to conduct three more public hearings to choose a new map, and the process probably won’t restart until late January or early February.

After the vote, residents and activists were in a state of outrage and rallied outside of City Hall. Ada Briceño, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, led the circle in shouts and chants, vowing to be back at City Hall with “five times” as many people in support of keeping the map the council majority decided to reject and to “shut down” the council majority.

“Are we going to fight?” Briceño yelled. “Yes!” The crowd responded.

As the crowd repeated the chant, Disneyland’s nightly fireworks thundered overhead.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • occynic

    Murray can’t run for Mayor in 2018. She is termed out. My bet would be Brandman is doing this all on his own.

    • Greg Diamond

      I believe that she can if she resigns before the sixth-year anniversary of the date she took office, which is about a year from now. If her “team” does well in the 2016 election, she can do so with the expectation of an appointment from the same side.

  • Jose Joe Moreno

    Remember when Anaheim resident Democrat Jordan Brandman was anointed by Latinos as their savior in replacing Anaheim Union High School District Trustee Harald Martin and then he spring-board to the Anaheim council with again the blessings of many of the same elected Latinos, on his side Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez vouching for his community commitment and independence.

    Estupido!

    Remember, “I’m my own man”

    • Vern Pat Nelson

      Yes. We remember.

  • kburgoyne

    The US suffers from a wealth of dishonorable individuals serving at all levels of government. It was at least honorable of the Democratic Central Committee to condemn the actions of a Democrat. (I’m not claiming that makes the DCC automatically honorable in absolutely everything they do.)

    I suppose the bigger question to be asked is, how difficult is it in our corrupt US political system for honorable people to get elected?

    • Paul Lucas

      Extremely difficult.

  • Vern Pat Nelson

    It was disturbing, though, to see representatives from LULAC and MALDEF, sitting mute as stones as the meaning of the ambiguous middle section of their letter was debated by folks with different motives. It really looked like they were thinking, “Ooo – a sudden surprise way to get OUR favored (2 Latino-majority district rather than 1 majority / 2 plurality) back on the table.” I still haven’t heard a good explanation for their silence, when it would have been so easy to step up and say, “That’s not what we meant.”

    Say it ain’t so, that you haven’t become Brandman allies of convenience, LULAC and MALDEF! Time was of the essence.

    • Cynthia Ward

      Vern, I have to disagree with you. Sorry. While members of LULAC and MALDEF were in attendance, including those involved in drafting the letter, they do not appear to have been authorized to speak on behalf of the corporate entities, which are governed by a Board of Directors. To answer very pointed questions regarding potential litigation without the direction of the Board to discuss the new direction of City Council would be foolish. To speak out without advice of legal Counsel on that matter, in a place that provides a level of confidentiality they were not going to enjoy anywhere in that building last night, would be too stupid even for Art Montez, certainly beneath Zeke who is the smarter of the two who tend to speak for the group.

      LULAC and MALDEF can clarify the issues with a new letter, or appear in person, or send their attorney to appear on their behalf and answer questions, as I believe the Mayor asked that this be on next week’s agenda just in case they got answers. (He did not, however, instruct the City Attorney to not screw with the process like the Angels appraisal in which the CA put it on the agenda as a RECEIVE AND FILE thus blocking the Mayor from attempting a vote by motion. So expect some level of weasel.)

      Whatever was done last night can be undone, or undone to the point that the Kleptocrat majority cannot hang it on MALDEF and LULAC and will have to own their own self-dealing BS manipulation of civic affairs. But Zeke could have done something not easily undone had he spoken out of turn last night. As part of a corporate entity, Zeke did the right thing. Let’s get off his back.

      • Vern Pat Nelson

        Well, it makes sense the way you put it. But I don’t know why Zeke couldn’t explain it that way this morning at Los Amigos; instead he was all hummina hummina and everyone was mad at him.

        • Greg Diamond

          It’s just not in his wheelhouse. He has many good talents, but on-the-spot solo extemporaneous analysis and decision making aren’t what make him a good activist — and he is one. Montez, whose talents are complementary to Zeke’s, might have been able to do it; he doesn’t care about being second-guessed.

          • Cynthia Ward

            Wait. I was sitting in front so I saw Zeke but not the LULAC or MALDEF lawyer, (who I would not know by sight anyway) can anyone tell me about an exchange between Zeke and the lawyer? Did the lawyer DECLINE to be identified? THAT seems odd to me. Or did Zeke refuse to make them available? I understand Zeke being unable to speak on behalf of a corporate entity without authorization, but it is the lawyer’s JOB to step up and clarify the meaning of a letter sent from their DESK! How does a lawyer REFUSE to answer at least limited questions about the intent of a letter? Can someone who was sitting closer to the action please help me understand the dynamics of that exchange? Thanks.

          • Greg Diamond

            Sorry that I missed this earlier. Zeke refused to divulge the lawyer’s name when asked, saying only that it was a woman and that she was in the room. Some people apparently believe that it was the woman sitting next to him. If so, she may not have wanted to do so without his agreement, or she may have had others reasons.

            The lawyer presumably DID have authority, having written the letter, to say whether the letter was (as the final line stated) solely about the about the sequencing of elections or also about demanding two absolute majority Latino CVAP districts. I have a hard time thinking of a compelling reason she wouldn’t have clarified it then and there.

            This analysis is bolstered from the fact that Zeke himself ENDORSED THE REYES PLAN at the Advisory committee’s final meeting, despite its not having two Latino CVAP majority districts. Unless he had some understanding with Jordan in advance of the meeting, which I’d like to think he didn’t, I flat out don’t understand his stance.

    • occynic

      Vern Nelson, you got this posted before I was able to. Of course LULAC and MALDEF are excited about getting 2 majority districts. Zeke read what was happening very quickly. And if having a Latino or multiple Latinos on the council is what the goal was, why is everyone upset about what Brandman is doing? He stated at the meeting he has decided he wants more then one latino district now. What’s not to like? This should be filed under the heading of be careful what you wish for. If Brandman had not been backed in the corner like he was over the delay to 2018 election, everyone’s favorite local activist would have only had to wait an extra two years before he was sitting on the council. Now, it’s anyone’s game.

      • Vern Pat Nelson

        MOST of the activists seem to prefer 1 majority and 2 plurality, which would give Latinos a fighting chance at 3 seats…. especially as their population explodes in the coming decades. The 2-majority pretty much locks them into just 2 for a long time.

      • Greg Diamond

        No, sorry, that’s just wrong. District 4 in the Recommended Plan — a 47% Latino CVAP plurality district on paper — probably already IS actually a Latino CVAP majority district. If not, it probably will be by November 2016; if not by then, then soon after that. Plus, the margin over the next highest ethnic group in District 4 is huge. It’s a perfectly satisfactory 2nd-highest district; it just goes against MALDEF’s nature to admit it because USUALLY that’s what they’re fighting for.

        • occynic

          Are you sure about those numbers? Aren’t new numbers about to bed released?

          • Greg Diamond

            Of course I’m not sure — that’s why I included the word “probably” in the comment. Yes, we will see when the new numbers come out at (most likely) the end of January. But I (and others) base that prediction of a probable Latino CVAP majority on the voter registration statistics as of Nov. 2014, — 4-1/2 years after the census figures — which shows that 53% of the registered voters in District 4 of the Recommended Plan had Latino surnames. So, at a minimum, it’s probable.

            Of course, the three-month delay in setting district lines (possibly followed by litigation) is probably the POINT of this whole rabbit chase, as it cuts into the ability of challengers to the Council Majority’s “Pringle Ring” candidates to mount successful campaigns. A shorter campaign favors big donations over the grass roots; all the more so when the Pringle Ring candidates have a three-month head-start at knowing what the district lines will be.

  • LFOldTimer

    About the only way you can remedy this sort of thing is by electing Steve Rocco types and just let them tear the bezzle out by the roots. Would the cure be worse than the disease? Not necessarily. If you elect one establishment politician to replace another you’ve just duplicated the problem. If you could just convince the Anaheim voters to elect the ones who spend the least on their campaigns you could start climbing out of the hole. But never underestimate the stupidity of the average voter. In that end that’s where the responsibility begins and ends (unless you can prove to me that the vote counts are rigged).

  • Paul Lucas

    Ok, this is all too much to be real so i thought about it and it has become obvious that this guy Jordan isnt actually a city council man he is a performance artist and head of a trio of performance artists that include Matt Cunningham and the Irvine Troll who take turns playing the role of Squeeler the Propaganda Pig in a live action adaptation of Orwells Animal farm; “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” Matt Cunningham and th Troll take turns playing the role of Napoleons Propaganda Pig Squeeler. Their executive producer is Steve Rocco who has long been thought of as actually Andy Kaufman.

  • Austin Lynch

    I would add to the article: City Attorney Houston stated clearly that in his opinion, any MALDEF lawsuit would be meritless.

    • Greg Diamond

      Any MALDEF suit on the City’s second district being only 47% Latino electoral pool rather than 50% would be meritless. He’s clearly right.

      But he *also* thinks that a MALDEF suit on not including District 3 in the 2016 elections would be meritless — and *there* he is wrong.

  • Paul Lucas

    This is incredible. Simply incredible. I think a recall effort is warranted here.

  • Jeff LeTourneau

    Just when it looked like the brazen self serving actions of Councilman Bradman couldn’t get anybworse, he and his two Republican cronies have called for a do over of the whole mapping process. Not only will this process delay revisions until after Jordan’s Congressional primary battle this spring, (assuming his almost laughable campaign can survive for much longer), but under his proposed revisions, the Latino community are almost certain to control only two districts instead of three. IT IS NOW TIME FOR ALL DEMOCRATIC PUBLIC OFFICIALS TO WITHDRAW THEIR ENDORSEMENT OF BRADMAN!!! The opportunity to divorce yourself from this contemptible and brazen public official may not come again and the progressive community will be watching!!!!

  • Greg Diamond

    I think that people are missing the point. This is probably about trying to fix — or at least tilt the table to favor Kleptocrats in — the 2016 elections.

    The pattern is now clear: Murray and Brandman come up with a proposal knowing that Kring has previously committed to agree with whatever they say, so long as it doesn’t involve harm to Kring. So THEY KNOW what the new district lines will be. They know where they have to have “Chavez” Lodge move (or “move”) from RIverside County to be positioned to run.

    Their opponents, though, have NO IDEA — after the astonishing disrespect shown last night not just to Anaheim’s Latino community, but to the work product of the independent (and honest) panel of judges — of what might happen.

    That means that, with the required three public hearings not beginning until after revised government CVAP figures come out in late January, they’ll have delayed the process by about three months — but only for their opponents.

    It’s a shabby use of public funds for personal political gain. We’ll see whether it is illegal as well. Either way, their main sponsor Disney will have to be held accountable for their servants’ actions.

    • RyanCantor

      Kring knows she’s getting Eastman’d, right?

      • Greg Diamond

        I don’t think that she does. She could be betrayed by her “promise her anything” funders twice a year every year and I *still* don’t think she’d get how disposable they consider her.

        • Cynthia Ward

          I don’t think she REMEMBERS them hosing her from election to election, she has already forgotten how quickly the Chamber and SOAR dropped her from their mailers and only pushed Eastman and Murray. She claims to take notes on everyone who speaks at every meeting, but she fails to retain the information from meeting to meeting, thus claiming she doesn’t know or remember Jeff LeTourneau, when he has clearly had exchanges with her in past meetings. He is not the only one she fails to recall. She is clearly in over her head, and sits there blinking hard in confusion, wondering what day it is and how did she get to this place?

          Speaking of Eastman, where is HER leadership for HER OWN DISTRICT 3 when she has pulled papers to run for that seat in 2016? Where is her band of supporters willing to storm the gates and demand the chance to return their chosen candidate to office ASAP? I find her missing in action to be at least as interesting as the players flitting across the stage.

          • Vern Pat Nelson

            Eastman MIA 2015 … as interesting as the Silence of the LoGal throughout 2014.

          • Greg Diamond

            I don’t know, Vern — that latter one was very interesting and it lasted almost all year long. The need for Eastman to get involved personally has only cropped up in the last few weeks of the year.

            But yes, questions should be asked of her — from those who can reasonably expect answers!

          • RyanCantor

            The most telling silence at the moment is emanating from SQS.

          • Vern Pat Nelson

            SUPPOSEDLY that silence ends after the weekend. It better be dramatic and well-done, with that much preparation.

    • occynic

      Hate to disagree Mr. Diamond, but I think Disney washed their hands of this whole issue quite awhile ago. What we are watching is Brandman responding to the past few weeks of getting whacked. And at the end he will get more Latino districts for the Democratic Party then if he had gone along with the people’s maps. Win for him.

  • LFOldTimer

    So what did you expect? As a sophomore in HS my literature instructor taught us that ‘Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’. If you ever believed that we lived in a government ‘of, for and by the People’, someone filled your brain with mush. The Council loves the cheap labor. But the Council doesn’t want the cheap labor to vote them out of office. Neither does Disney. You see, the art of politics in America is all about control. Forcing people around you to embrace your will by whatever means necessary while feigning being a lover of freedom and American values. It’s a very fine line to walk. Of course, eventually reality rears it’s ugly head and the truth becomes blatantly obvious while the talking heads concoct one excuse after another to try and stop the bleeding. But in the long run their desperate reactionary methods fail. Rock crushes scissors. Each and every time. Human history repeats itself over and over again.

  • RyanCantor

    “In the time since it has become clear to me that we have a problem. The problem is not the sequencing… the problem is the map that was recommended,” Brandman said.

    The problem isn’t the map. It’s not the sequencing.

    The problem is Jordan Brandman.

    • Paul Lucas

      I had flashbacks of Animal farm with this quote. “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”.

  • RyanCantor

    “Brandman reasoned that, with only one Latino majority citizen voting age population district, the map forced the council to pick between the aspirations of Latino residents and equitable representation for other parts of the city that haven’t seen many residents elected to council.”

    That’s not reason.

    That’s selfishness. The same kind of selfishness that justifies accepting a $25,000 check from taxpayers for copying and pasting from Wikipedia while simultaneously turning in the plagiarized work wildly late.

    Just how many lawsuits will Anaheim Taxpayers tolerate before they put a stop to this?

    • Cynthia Ward

      How many lawsuits are the Anaheim Taxpayers made aware of to be able to object? Register does a rotten job of reporting on them, and following the Eastman/Murray meeting in the CMOs office a few years back they no longer even take PAID ADS to report to constituents the goings-on of the political elite. And Register reaches a much, much more limited audience these days anyway. Voice does what they can but again, how do you reach the audience? The ONLY reliable vehicle to impart a specific message to each and every resident one wishes to reach is MAIL, direct mail, at a whole lotta special-interest bucks to pay for it. THIS is how they keep things locked up. People can’t object to what they don’t know about, and the Kleptocracy has that info pipeline pretty much locked down.

      • cynthia curran

        I not a democratic but in the case of Anaheim a bigger mixture means Anaheim becomes less of a resort town-yeah. In fact being less of a resort town should please Republicans but it doesn’t since they get big money from the Hotels and Disneyland. If Anaheim were less of a resort town its Latino population could dropped, and other ethnic groups could increase if the job based was more similar to Huntington Beach and Irvine. The Latinos would be helpful since while they helped their own they could also helped the city be less resort oreineted and more diverse. The Asian population could increase and the white population moved up to 26 percent.

  • David Zenger

    “He also cited the MALDEF letter and asserted that adopting a map with
    only one Latino majority citizen voting age population district would
    open up the city to a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit.”

    Orwellian, indeed. These people will spout any nonsense, but the reason is clear. Not even Houston could go along with that absurdity.

    There is far too much loot still on the table to give up without a fight.

    At this point the Kleptocracy WELCOMES another lawsuit because 1) WE pay the legal bill, not them; and 2) if they stall long enough they can run the 2016 elections city-wide, there being no alternative.

    One positive outcome. Brandman is finished.

    • RyanCantor

      “At this point the Kleptocracy WELCOMES another lawsuit . . .”

      That’s right! What do they care? Michael Houston and his buddies get some billable hours, too.

      Just another racket to generate cash for the well connected. How else do you explain the MILLIONS (seriously, millions) of dollars Houston has dolled out to contract attorneys to clean up his mess?