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 firstname.lastname@example.org.