For a while, it seemed that Anaheim Councilwoman Gail Eastman, who scheduled a revote for Tuesday’s City Council meeting on changes to the city’s electoral system, might become a swing vote on one of the most important issues to face the council in years.
But in the end, Eastman changed nothing.
In a pair of 3-2 votes, Eastman was part of the majority in again rejecting district elections and opting to place residency requirements for council candidates on the June 2014 ballot for a citywide vote. The council also decided to ask voters whether the council should be expanded from four council members and a mayor to six council members and a mayor.
Eastman and Councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring approved the ballot measures, while Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman Jordan Brandman voted no, favoring instead elections by district.
Yet the ballot measure to enact residency requirements isn’t actually necessary to implement the change. The council may approve the change by ordinance because it did not violate a city charter provision that council elections be elected at large.
District elections are at the core of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Latino activists that alleges the city’s at large council elections violate the California Voting Rights Act, which requires adequate representation for certain minorities.
Anaheim is 53 percent Latino, but all its council members are white and live in middle class and affluent neighborhoods. Few Latinos have been elected in the past. Activists have said that their lack of representation on the council has resulted in an uneven distribution of city resources.
The activists have insisted that the only way Latinos will be adequately represented on the council is through election by districts, whereby residents could vote only for council candidates running in their districts. The model approved by the council majority, which is the same model used in Santa Ana, is a council districts system in name only and would not change the current dynamic, activists said.
Mayor Tom Tait, who has been strongly advocating district elections over the past year, said the Santa Ana model couldn’t be a district elections option because, if it were, it would be illegal to implement such a change by ordinance.
“Kris Murray’s proposal is an at large system,” Tait said. “If it weren’t at large, that ordinance would be illegal.”
In addition to the ordinance, Murray said she wanted voters to vote on a charter change shifting to residency requirements because it would make the change permanent. A future council could undo the ordinance, but any change to the city charter must go to the ballot.
While some residents attended to protest the decision, many Latinos aligned with the group Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development boycotted the meeting. In a video uploaded to the YouTube page of the union Unite Here Local 11, Latinos said they wouldn’t be attending the meeting because the council hasn’t been listening to them.
Opponents of district elections said that the system would Balkanize the council, resulting in a war for city resources that would make the council dysfunctional. They also argued that district elections would actually reduce representation, because residents would only be able to elect the council member in their districts, not the whole council.
Eastman, who voted against placing district elections on the ballot, had asked for a revote at the previous council meeting, saying that she needed more time to study the issue raised by the lawsuit. She conducted an independent review, she said, but her position didn’t change.
“I cannot in good conscience support moving in that direction,” Eastman said.
Eastman said her conclusions reflected a presentation on city voting trends given by Peter A. Morrison, retired senior staff demographer with the RAND Corp. Morrison presented an elections record showing that Latinos have had success in consistently landing third in council elections. Third, however, has not been good enough to win a council seat, which usually goes to the top and second best vote-getter.
Morrison also said that the numbers show Latino candidates are more often successful than what may be perceived. In the last 10 years, 42 percent of all candidates who won were Latinos, even though Latinos were only 28 percent of those who ran, according to Morrison.
The demographer said that if there were six council seats, Latinos would have been elected, because the third-place candidates, often Latino, would have won seats. And he described a shift in the pool of eligible voters that will favor Latinos in future elections.
“I believe these facts are inconsistent with the perceptions that some people have,” Morrison said.
However, Robert Ruben, an ACLU attorney in the lawsuit who attended the meeting, said that Morrison’s presentation had some fatal flaws.
According to Ruben, Morrison “addressed the wrong question,” because the lawsuit isn’t about whether Latinos can be elected but whether Latino residents can elect their candidates of choice.
He also said that Morrison’s assumption about Latino candidates being elected if there were simply more council seats is false, because if the circumstances were different, more white candidates would have run.
Ruben rejected the contention made by Morrison and council members that ethnic candidates have been successful in being elected. Eastman at one point asserted that most elected to the council have been Latino or Indian.
Such statements, Ruben said, deny reality. “Is this success? I see five white faces,” Ruben said of the council.
Ruben said that the court would reject Anaheim’s attempt to resolve the issue raised by the lawsuit by simply implementing residency requirements and increasing the size of the council. “The court would not allow this type of misnomer to take place,” he said.
Orange Count Superior Court Judge Franz E. Miller had ruled that the city should be allowed a chance to address to the issue by legislative process. Miller will consider the council’s ballot proposal during a July 9 hearing.
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