The Anaheim City Council meeting ended in chaos Tuesday night as over a hundred protesters shouted down members of the council majority after it became clear they would not reverse a decision to scrap a district elections map that had broad community support.
With chants of “shut it down” and “what do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” — the protesters crowded the council chambers podium and ultimately forced Mayor Tom Tait to abruptly end the meeting after his repeated calls for order went unheeded.
Following the adjournment, Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt, the two council members who support keeping the map, walked out of the council chambers. Meanwhile, council members Jordan Brandman, Kris Murray and Lucille Kring stayed for several moments in their seats as protesters berated them.
Tuesday’s pandemonium was the boiling over of anger in the community that had been building since Nov. 17, when the council majority, in a 3-2 vote, excluded the only Latino majority council district from electing a council representative in the 2016 general election. Instead, the council decided the district would have to wait until 2018 for representation on the council.
Choosing which districts would go up for election first in 2016, and which would go up for election in 2018, is part of the transition from at-large council elections to a by-district election system. The switch was the result of the city’s settling of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Southern California alleging that the at-large elections disenfranchised the city’s Latino communities and thus violated the state Voting Rights Act.
The transition to district elections had been going smoothly until the council majority’s controversial November decision, which members of the majority said was necessary so a council member could be elected from a district on the city’s west end that they said hasn’t had representation for years.
But there has also been speculation that the council majority’s real aim is to prevent the election in 2016 of Dr. Jose Moreno, who lives in the map’s Latino majority district. Moreno is president of the grassroots Latino group Los Amigos and a thorn in the side of the city’s business establishment. His candidacy in 2016 would give the mayor the best chance ever had to take over the council majority.
Much of the community’s ire since the November vote has been focused on Brandman because he’s the council’s only Democrat and has in the past supported district elections.
At last week’s regular council meeting, which came after the local Democratic party’s central committee condemned Brandman for his vote, he proposed what he said would be a fix. His proposal was to scrap the current map and draw a new one that has at least two Latino majority districts.
But instead of calming the situation, the move further enraged activists. Over 300 protesters showed up to Tuesday night’s council meeting, filling the chambers, spilling out into the lobby and onto the plaza outside City Hall.
Many carried signs and wore stickers that said “stop the power grab.” As speakers asked the council to reverse its decision, protesters in the crowd held up signs that said “shame on you Jordan Brandman,” “stop stalling” and “justice delayed is justice denied,” which was also a common refrain chanted by protesters that night.
The protesters said Brandman’s proposal further disenfranchised the city’s Latino residents, which make up 53 percent of the city, because it rejected a map that had been decided on after months of public hearings. A committee of five retired judges eventually recommended the final map, which was dubbed the “People’s Map” and had wide community support because it kept communities of interest and neighborhoods in the same districts.
Activists also said the decision delayed the adoption of clear district boundaries, giving potential candidates less time to organize their campaigns and an advantage to campaigns with major financing from powerful business interests like Disneyland.
Current and former elected officials also lent their support to the protesters and the current map. They included Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen and former state senators Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) and Joe Dunn (D-Anaheim) – the three of whom are running for the same congressional seat Brandman is seeking – as well as Anaheim Union High School District board member Al Jabbar.
“The action taken at the last Council meeting caused great concern for the people [of Anaheim], because the entire process was undermined, the spirit of the law was undermined, democracy was undermined,” Nguyen, raising his voice, told the council during public comments, to loud cheers from the audience.
“We can all see the Pinocchio show that is happening in the city of Anaheim,” he added, referring to the Disney-popularized puppet character who is known for telling lies. “Big, corporate interests are pulling strings behind the curtain, influencing our elected officials to act not in the interest of the people, but in the interest of greed.”
Tuesday night Brandman defended the move, saying he heard what the protesters had to say about timing and promised the new map would be adopted by February and that the first hearing would occur on Jan. 12. He said although they don’t see “eye to eye” he expressed appreciation for their attendance.
Brandman’s defense didn’t assuage the protesters, who proceeded to drown out much of what Brandman had left to say.
Tait proposed sending the sequencing of the districts – or which would go up for election in 2016 and which in 2018 – back to the panel of judges for guidance. He said that was the only issue that the judges didn’t consider in their deliberations.
“We didn’t ask the judges to opine on the sequence. I wish we did. I wish I did. It would have saved a lot of headache,” Tait said.
But Brandman opposed Tait’s idea because, he said, it could potentially delay the adoption of a new map even longer. Brandman’s reasoning elicited sarcastic laughter from the crowd.
Tait said the judges could have their recommendation on the sequencing of the district elections ready by the Jan. 12 council meeting. With the judges’ recommendations, he said the council should be able to come to a consensus.
Tait’s proposal was shot down in another vote, with Tait and Vanderbilt casting the yes votes. Brandman, Murray and Councilwoman Lucille Kring voted no.
As things stand now, there will be two decisions on the council agenda Jan. 12. One will be Tait’s request to reconsider “the people’s map” and putting the Latino majority district up for election in 2016, as the activists want. The other will be Brandman’s request to have the first public hearing on choosing a new map.
After the council majority voted against Tait’s motion to ask the judges for advice on the election sequencing, the crowd massed at the podium and shut down the meeting.
After the meeting closed, protesters gathered outside City Hall and celebrated what they labeled a victory. Ada Briceño, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, led the rally.
“Did we shut it down?” She asked. “Yes!” The crowd responded.
“Will we do it again?” She asked. “Yes!” The crowd said again.
In comments to a reporter, Briceño said the activists would now be “getting together and talking about how to escalate.”
Meanwhile, after Murray, Kring and most of the crowd had left the council chambers, Brandman remained in his seat, alone on an empty dais.
Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda contributed reporting.