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Anaheim is in violation of a 2001 law that requires greater representation for minority groups and must form City Council districts to ensure that Latinos are adequately represented on the council, the American Civil Liberties Union has asserted in a letter to the city.
Anaheim has an at-large election system, meaning there are no requirements that council candidates live in certain neighborhoods. The result in Anaheim is that four of the five sitting council members reside in Anaheim Hills, the city’s affluent eastern quarter.
According to the April 11 letter, 54 percent of the city is Hispanic or Latino, yet only two Latinos have been elected to the council in the last 15 years. None of the sitting council members are Latino. This is evidence that the at-large election system dilutes the voting rights of a large class of residents and therefore violates the California Voting Rights Act, the letter states.
The letter makes clear that the ACLU will file suit should the city not form the districts it demands.
Local activists familiar with the ACLU challenge say that the council majority – Kris Murray, Gail Eastman and Harry Sidhu – have already taken a position against forming council districts.
“If you look at it subjectively from their position, they’re the beneficiary of the existing system, so why would they want it to change?” said Victor Becerra, an activist who also sits on the Orange County Communities for Responsible Development board of directors. Only Eastman lives outside of Anaheim Hills.
“There are some neighborhoods that are sort of systematically excluded from having representation in their neighborhoods. And you look at the benefits as to how resources are allocated by the city, I think you’ll find a good number of instances, if not the majority of them, where the resources are largely benefiting the folks in Anaheim Hills,” Becerra said.
Murray says it’s “not accurate” that the council majority is against council redistricting. She says she wants to learn more about the law before she makes a judgment. “Honestly, I need the same education that the rest of my colleagues and the city is looking for,” she said.
Murray also pointed out that the city has elected Latino candidates.
“We do have a long history of Latinos being elected to the Anaheim City Council,” Murray said. “This is the first council since 1990 that doesn’t have a [Latino] council representative on it.”
Councilwoman Gail Eastman said she wants to hear more from a variety of city residents before she will take a position on council districts. “I don’t want to hear from just one faction of community members. We need to hear from all factions,” she said.
The city, meanwhile, is planning a community meeting on forming council districts, city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz wrote in an email. The date has not been made public yet, she stated.
Activists say that the ACLU will hold a press conference later this week, but the details have yet to be announced.
ACLU Media Relations Manager Diana Rubio did not return phone calls seeking comment.