Divided Fullerton City Council Picks Districts for 2018 Election

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A split Fullerton City Council last week picked the first two council districts that will be up for election in 2018 under a new district voting system approved by voters in November.

One seat that will be on the 2018 ballot currently has no city council member living there and the incumbent living in the other district has said he won’t seek re-election.

The five new districts replace the old at-large voting system that court suits filed against the city argued disenfranchised Asian and Latino voters.

The two seats that will be up for election are District 2, which stretches across north Fullerton and has a 67.6 percent white voting population, and District 5 in south Fullerton where 44.1 percent of the voters are Latino.

The current five council members all were elected at large and none specifically represents one of the new districts.

Although 53 percent of Fullerton voters approved switching to districts, there is ongoing controversy over the way the city council drew the new boundaries.

After extensive public hearings on several proposals, the city council, at the last minute and without the amount of community input the other maps had, adopted a map drawn by Jeremy Popoff, owner of the downtown Slidebar bar and restaurant.

Popoff’s plan connected downtown to each of the five districts, giving those business owners a voice in each district. His plan was heavily backed by downtown business owners.

Fullerton, Garden Grove, Anaheim and a number of other cities across the state created specific city council districts last year as part of lawsuit settlements.

In Fullerton, the move toward district-based voting stems from a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed by attorney Kevin Shenkman on behalf of resident Kitty Jaramillo, and another by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice on behalf of resident Jonathon Paik.

The city of more than 135,000 is 22.8 percent Asian and 34.4 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census, for a total of 57.2 percent.

District 2, where Councilman Doug Chaffee lives, lies mostly between Euclid Street and State College Boulevard in north Fullerton, with Malvern and Berkley Avenues the major streets on its southern boundary. Chaffee said he will not seek reelection in 2018.

The southeastern District 5, which currently has no council member living there, begins just west of Euclid Street and stretches east to the Placentia border. The city of Anaheim is on the south and the district is separated from other districts mostly by Chapman Avenue and Valencia Drive.

Opponents of Popoff’s map contend it disenfranchises downtown residents because it carves up downtown Fullerton. The map was even challenged in court last year for failing to meet the public hearing criteria of the settlement. It eventually had a second public hearing and was adopted.

“The map is so horrendously bad that it can’t go well for me,” downtown resident Matt Leslie told the Council during the Feb. 21 meeting. “I effectively have no representation.”

Two residents, Veronica Moran and Alma Chavez from the Hispanic community told the council, through a Spanish translator, that District 5 was an absolute must for the 2018 election cycle so that their southeast neighborhood would be finally represented. Moran also invited the community to see the problems they face in the southeast part of the city.

Jaramillo, one of the original court suit plaintiffs, told the council the District 5 needs to be filled.

Another resident said that districts should be chosen at random to ensure fairness.

“The most egalitarian and realistic way in choosing districts should be random,” Joshua Ferguson said. “To say that, ‘We’re choosing District 5 because they have no representative’ is untrue, because we all have no representative” in a specific district.

Chaffee sided with Ferguson on the issue during council deliberations.

“I wouldn’t mind just doing a random drawing. Put all the controversy aside. Whatever ping pong balls come up, that’s it,” Chaffee said. But other council members didn’t support him.

“I think we were voted in to make decisions. I think that’s what we’re doing right now. I don’t think we’ve ever stated that we do these at random.” said Councilman Jesus Silva.

Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald, supported by Councilman Greg Sebourn, moved to have Districts 3 and 5 be up for election in 2018. Seabourn and Silva live in District 3.

Silva countered Fitzgerald’s motion, urging the council to put Districts 2 and 5 up for election first. His motion was adopted on a 3-2 vote with support from Chaffee and Mayor Bruce Whitaker.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Spencercustodio@gmail.com.

  • David Zenger

    Entertaining.