Judge Temporarily Halts Garden Grove District Elections Process

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An Orange County Superior Court judge has temporarily halted Garden Grove’s district elections process, after a community group and former city councilman filed a lawsuit challenging the elimination of an at-large elected mayor.

The city began the process of implementing a district-based electoral system in September after settling a lawsuit filed by Rickk Montoya, a Latino resident and city council candidate who alleged the city’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act.

The current proposal calls for a system where Garden Grove residents vote for five district-based council seats, and then the council members vote to appoint a mayor for a two-year term.

Judge Frederick Aguirre Tuesday agreed to temporarily nullify the terms of the settlement until a hearing for Feb. 23, according to the Orange County Register, which first reported on the judge’s action.

Read the full complaint: Central Garden Grove Neighborhood Association Complaint

Since the city agreed to the settlement, an number of residents have raised concern about the elimination of an independently elected mayor.

Citizens with the Central Garden Grove Neighborhood Association and their attorney Mark Rosen, a former Garden Grove city council member, say they want the court to decide whether the City Council should have deferred to a 1970s city ballot measure that established an at-large elected mayor.

“The council cannot undo something that the voters approved without presenting it to voters again,” said Rosen.

Maureen Blackmun, president of the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association and one of the residents behind the court action, said they decided to bring the issue to court because city leaders weren’t responsive to their concerns.

“The city never was able to articulate to the voters why we needed to give that option up…therefore without a clear rationale for giving up the choice, we went to court,” said Blackmun.

Blackmun said that, while they don’t object to district elections, they believe voters should have a say regarding the mayor’s seat. The group believes the new district-based system should expand the council to six seats, with five council members elected by district and a mayor elected at-large.

Kevin Shenkman, the attorney for Montoya, says electing any member of the council at-large would contribute to the dilution of the minority vote.

“To be clear, though, the settlement does not require a mayor to be
appointed from or by the council.  Rather, it only requires that all
members of the council be elected by districts,” Shenkman said in an email.

For example, the city could choose to have a model similar to the city of Los Angeles, where the mayor is elected at-large but is not a member of the city council, Shenkman said.

Shenkman said that while the court heard Rosen’s argument, and is procedurally required to temporarily set aside the settlement, ultimately it has “no basis in the law” and a local ballot measure can’t supersede state laws.

Garden Grove City Attorney Omar Sandoval told the Register that public meetings about the district elections process will continue.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • Josh McIntosh

    A few points to consider with regards to the at large voting for a mayor. One, it keeps big money in the electoral process. I am not happy about the donations made from out of town corporations and the unions that support any candidate for office, hoping to get their favor returned. I don’t like my election bought and paid for by any special interest group. I don’t need to see thousands of dollars worth of bill boards and signage all over the city to try and sway me to vote for a candidate who wasted all of that money on a sign with name on it. That shows me you don’t respect the dollar now and will not if you get into office. The red white and blue political graffiti at Euclid and Garden Grove Blvd disgusts me. If anyone chooses a candidate because they see the name over and over on every light pole and wall, they should probably not even vote. People should make informed decisions, not support the candidate with the most signs. Second issue, why on earth did the city decide to take the at large vote away from the residents? That was not a part of the Montoya lawsuit, that was a part of the settlement on the city’s side. Do I trust my city councilmen enough to choose a mayor for me? Not really. I would still like to cast my single vote. I like to participate as much as possible, as tiny of an effect that it has, it matters to me. Heck, we got Bao in with 16 very important votes, to end the Broadwater dynasty. Unfortunately, I hear he has been creeping back around and may perhaps be returning to the arena. So, does it matter more to keep the big money out of politics or to have a say in the matter in 2016. Something to think about.

  • Philmore

    Good Catch! “Solutions in search of a problem” usually marginalize collateral damage side effects.