Judge Rejects Voting Districts Map Approved by Fullerton City Council

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An Orange County Superior Court judge this week invalidated the Fullerton City Council’s vote last month to approve a controversial voting districts map.

Judge James Crandall ruled Wednesday that in choosing a map favored by the Fullerton business community, council members did not abide by the settlement agreement stemming from state Voting Rights Act lawsuits that allege the city’s current at-large electoral system disenfranchises minority residents.

The suits were filed by attorney Kevin Shenkman on behalf of resident Kitty Jaramillo; and the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice on behalf of resident Jonathon Paik. The city is 22.8 percent Asian and 34.4 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census. However, all five council members are white and an Asian hasn’t sat on the council since 2000.

The settlement calls for a voting districts map to be put before Fullerton voters in the November election.

Crandall’s decision came after a motion in the case filed by Shenkman claiming that council members’ June 7th selection of a map that was submitted at the last minute (known as “8A”) by the city’s business interests violates the settlement agreement and voting rights laws because it fails to create any majority-minority districts. The motion goes on to argue that the city should choose the community-driven map (known as “2B”).

(Click here to read the judge’s order)

Fullerton City Attorney Kimberly Barlow argued that the splintering of downtown Fullerton into five districts is lawful and doesn’t violate the settlement agreement. She asserted that the law allows cities to take segments from certain communities and group them with others, as was done with map 8A.

Crandall disagreed. “That’s why we need to honor the spirit of the law,” he said of state election law. “Five [districts in downtown] is a little severe.”

Shenkman said Barlow’s argument amounts to “ turning election code … on its head,”

In adopting map 8A, council members reasoned that it would give everyone in the city a voice in downtown and that the area was the “heart” of Fullerton.

“When we’re districting, we’re not talking about business owners,” Shenkman said during his argument. He added that while 8A would weaken the downtown residents’ voice, it would only strengthen the business voice.

Barlow cited Pasadena as an example of how breaking up a downtown area into multiple districts works.

Crandall, however, said Pasadena is not a good comparison because it is much bigger than Fullerton. He also said downtown Pasadena is home to many different communities that justify separating them from others on a district map.

Also influencing Crandall’s ruling was the fact that 8A wasn’t a part of the public input process like map 2B. The “adoption of that map (8A) arguably constitutes a breach of the settlement,” according to Crandall’s order.

Map 8A, like its predecessor, only had one public hearing — the June 7 city council meeting.

The “lack of clarity” around the public process is an issue, Crandall said.

“Map 8A was the result of only one meeting,” Crandall said. “Maybe they can come up with one that survives both hearings.”

After an emergency closed session meeting Thursday, Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said that another public hearing on the map selection will be held Aug. 2. She’s not sure which maps will be up for consideration yet, but there will not be any new submissions accepted.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC contributing writer. He can be reached at spencercustodio@gmail.com.

  • frustrated

    “What part of against the laws do you not understand when the cops violate the citizens rights while ON DUTY and commit crimes because they look at the average citizen as the criminal while committing crimes themselves in the name of law enforcement”.

  • frustrated

    No, not good because they tell you that they are not playing politics with people’s lives when they are and also telling you that they are not discriminating against people when they are and breaking the laws at the same time.

  • RyanCantor

    Good.

  • Jane Rands

    Spencer, thank you for your timely posting of this story. I hope you won’t mind if I may clarify the reasoning for the judge’s ruling.

    The “main issue” according to the court’s minute order was:
    1) whether the map “inappropriately considers the residences of incumbent council members to avoid their having to run against one another”
    2) whether the map “inappropriately splits the downtown region into multiple districts, thus violating community of interest principles”
    3) whether the map ” fails to create any majority- minority districts, even where such districts arise naturally.”

    Of the three, only the second was stated as having “merit.” The first was not accepted, unfortunately, based on the understanding that creating a district for Sebourn still left 2 other council members in a single district and the third was not discussed.

    However, it appears in the article that the lack of a majority-minority districts was a factor in the decision to confirm Jaramillo’s complaint that map 8a violates the settlement agreement, when it actually hinged upon
    1) the inability to justify the separation of the downtown community of interest and
    2) the unclear settlement wording that led the judge to believe that in order for a map to be selected it has to be included in 2 public hearings.

    Thank you for endulging me.

    • David Zenger

      This is GOOD news. It means that somebody objective saw a community of interest downtown (apart from the self-serving booze peddlers) without dragging ethnicity into it.

      • frustrated

        “Discrimination clearly exists but discrimination is against the laws”. – George W.anker Bush

    • frustrated

      “Changing the wording in order to make you believe it”.

    • frustrated

      Um, Can you say Jim Righeimer?

  • Irascible Professor

    Let’s hope that our City Council will take the judge’s comments to heart.

    • frustrated

      Remove judge from bench.

      • Jane Rands

        Frustrated, I think you have misunderstood the comments here.
        The original complaints from Paik and Jaramillo discuss racially polarized voting according to the CVRA. That will only be reviewed by a judge if the settlement fails.
        This discussion is about how to draw district boundaries according to the settlement terms which include the state elections code pertaining to district boundaries.
        The judge was very smart in upholding state law and enforcing the settlement terms. It is unclear to me why you would have a problem with that.

        • frustrated

          And you might be a lawyer, and lawyers lie for a living. I however see the other side of the coin at how corrupt the OC judges really are in some cases. They do not meet out justice.

        • frustrated

          The State should not be involved in local political issues, its none of the states business.

          • Rivett

            The State makes laws that cities have to abide by. This, like most things, may not make sense to you.

  • David Zenger

    So much for Jeremy Popoff, Boy Cartographer.