The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night decided to review at the next council meeting the recommendations of an election advisory committee to put the question of council districts and increasing the size of the council to a citywide vote.
The monthslong committee study was in reaction to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of Latino activists alleging that the city's at large council elections violate the California Voting Rights Act, which requires adequate council representation for minorities.
Activists have complained that the city's resources are unfairly distributed to the detriment of the city's majority Latino population. They pointed out that all of the five sitting council members are non-Latino and from affluent neighborhoods.
Opponents of council districts say the concept would trigger political gridlock, because council members would be constantly jousting to steer resources to their districts. They also describe the push for council districts as racist, as the lawsuit implies that Latinos can only be fairly represented by other Latinos.
Mayor Tom Tait last year had proposed placing a council districts system — six council members elected by district and a mayor elected at large — on the 2012 general election ballot. However, the then council majority of Harry Sidhu, Kris Murray and Gail Eastman said the issue needed more study.
After months of study and thousands of dollars spent, the advisory committee recommended Tait's original proposal — placing council districts on the ballot, with a majority of the committee preferring an increase to six council seats and a mayor.
Yet there will likely be a dispute over the committee's actual intent when the recommendations come before the council. At the final committee meeting, member Sandy Day, a Murray appointee, said she was confused during the process and wanted to add a third, hybrid option — nominating candidates by district but electing them at large.
How and how quickly the council acts on the recommendations will be key to resolving the lawsuit, which, according to Tait, has so far cost city taxpayers approximately $500,000 in attorney fees.
Last month, Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz E. Miller granted the city's motion to postpone activity on the case until July 9 so the committee could finish its work. Miller said that the city should be allowed to first attempt a solution to the problem raised in the lawsuit via a legislative process.
ACLU attorneys, however, have expressed concerns that with so much time consumed by the study, there won't be enough time to have council districts in place for the 2014 general election.
“Time is of the essence on this matter,” Tait said. He later added that he will propose council districts for a June 2014 special election.