Outside attorneys fees incurred by the city of Anaheim in its fight against a civil rights lawsuit are approaching $800,000 and will almost certainly eclipse $1 million as the case reaches trial, according to the city’s latest figures.
The city’s attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the city on behalf of Latino activists, are negotiating the parameters and dates for deposing current and former council members.
The ACLU’s case alleges that Anaheim’s current at large voting system violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act because it does not give Latinos, who constitute 54 percent of the city’s population, the opportunity to elect council members who truly represent their neighborhoods.
Activists say the result of this inadequate representation is a council that represents major business interests and affluent communities over the needs of working-class neighborhoods fraught with social and economic challenges.
In order to prove their case, the ACLU must show a pattern of racially polarized voting in Anaheim, with Latinos consistently voting for losing candidates.
Supporters of district elections have argued that under such a system, council members would have to be responsive to their communities if they wanted to win re-election. They said it is appalling that the city is spending so much in legal fees in an effort to continue disenfranchising city neighborhoods.
“It’s pretty clear that real districts would give every neighborhood in Anaheim someone to stand up for them at City Hall, and any amount spent against that is a waste of taxpayer resources,” said Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, which has advocated district elections.
Meanwhile, opponents of the lawsuit have said a council districts system would balkanize the council and result in political gridlock. No price, they said, is too high to defend the current system.
“[Election by districts] limits my ability to elect representatives,” said Keith Olesen, an outspoken critic of the lawsuit, who sat on an advisory body formed to study and make recommendations on the city’s election system. “Every official in the city government should be accountable to every voter.”
“Defending your right to vote, defending freedom to democracy, that doesn’t have a price tag,” said Olesen,