The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night set Oct. 18 as the first meeting date for a citizens advisory committee tasked with studying and possibly changing the city’s electoral system.

The committee is to form recommendations on a potential move to council districts, whereby council members would be elected to represent specific neighborhoods, as well as on ways to increase electoral participation among residents.

Council members now are elected at large, meaning there are no requirements that candidates live in certain neighborhoods.

“This is an important opportunity to engage our citizens and how we’re governed in Anaheim,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray, who had first proposed the committee last month.

But while Murray is calling the committee an important first step toward greater representation in a city where four of five council members live in the affluent Anaheim Hills neighborhood, Latino activists are already characterizing the committee as a ruse by the council majority to delay a change to council districts.

“I don’t think it has any validity,” said Amin David, president emeritus of the grassroots Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County. “It’s structured by the City Council majority.”

Murray proposed forming the committee as an alternative to Mayor Tom Tait’s push last month to place six council districts on the November ballot. At that meeting, Murray, speaking over angry shouts from activists, said that Tait’s proposal was premature because there wasn’t consensus on how many districts should be formed.

The battle over representation erupted after a group of activists and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city, arguing that the at-large council elections violate the 2001 California Voting Rights Act. Latinos, who constitute more than half of the city’s population, can’t elect the council candidates of their choice, the suit asserted.

Anger in the Latino community exploded in July after police shot and killed two young Latino men. Protests turned into a downtown riot after protesters where denied admittance to a July 24 City Council meeting.

Supporters of council districts have said the move would ensure fair representation, because council members would then understand the day-to-day living conditions of the city’s working-class areas.

Opponents argue that council districts would fracture the City Council and disenfranchise a council minority’s districts. For example, if one council member is particularly disliked, it is likely that city services in that council member’s district would be reduced, opponents say.

David, other activists, and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who along with Tait had voted against forming the committee, argue that because each council member will appointment two committee members, the council majority will have appointed the most and will therefore have set up in advance the committee’s ultimate decision.

It is widely believed that the council majority is against moving to council districts.

Councilwoman Gail Eastman sent emails referring to the downtown riot as a “victory with no shots fired” and a blessing from God because the violence forced the cancellation of a council meeting and postponed Tait’s proposal to place the districts proposal on the ballot. She later apologized and said she was in favor of the council districts system.

Below is the list of committee appointees, with the exception of Councilman Harry Sidhu, who will make his appointments next week.

  • By Tait: Bill Dalati and Vivian Pham.
  • By Galloway: Larry Larsen and Martin Lopez.
  • By Eastman: Anthony Armas and Gloria Ma’ae.
  • By Murray: David Diaz and Joseph Karaki.

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