Anaheim Leaders Want to Get Moving on Forming Council Districts

The Anaheim City Council majority fought in court to prevent a transformation of the city’s at-large electoral system into one that elects council members by geographical districts and give low-income, largely Latino neighborhoods, better representation on council.

But now that voters have approved the new system, council members are urging city staff to implement it as quickly as possible.

At a Tuesday afternoon study session on the issue, council members said the deadline to submit the maps to the county Registrar of Voters – July 6, 2016 – doesn’t give potential candidates enough time to figure out the logistics by that year’s November election, like whether they live in a district they want to run in.

“We don’t want to see any grass growing on this process,” Mayor Tom Tait told city staff from the council dais. “Time is of the essence.”

The city’s current timeline calls for the council to approve district maps by December of this year. But before that can happen, a number of actions must be accomplished, including the formation of an advisory committee to study possible district boundaries, public hearings, and the hiring of a demographer to assist in the process, according to the city’s presentation to the council.

The mandate to implement district elections stems from a lawsuit by Latino activists and the American Civil Liberties Union that alleged a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, which requires adequate representation for minority communities on city councils.

The suit argued that although the city is 54 percent Latino, the city’s at-large electoral system prevents more Latinos from getting elected. It also sparked a “two cities” debate about whether the resort district or affluent Anaheim Hills receive more than their fair share of city resources, leaving the working-class flatlands underserved.

City leaders settled the lawsuit and agreed to allow voters to decide whether to shift to a district elections system. Voters approved the switch last November, with 68.8 percent voting yes, along with a measure to increase the council size from four council members to six and a mayor.

Now that the district elections measure has passed, the city is required to follow an implementation process spelled out in the settlement agreement and state law. Among the first actions the city must take is to form an advisory committee on the issue, preferably one made up of three retired Superior Court judges, city officials say.

However, so far there is only one retired judge in Anaheim eligible to serve on the committee, City Attorney Michael Houston told the council. City officials are probably going to ask the plaintiff to amend the settlement agreement so that other judges — such as retired state or federal judges or those from outside Anaheim — could be brought in to serve.

If the judges committee isn’t possible, then the city can instead form a nine-member committee made up of Anaheim residents.

Council members also said they preferred a judges committee.

“I think it reduces the amount of bias that might be involved with local people,” said Councilwoman Lucille Kring.

Under state law, city officials have to schedule at least three public hearings on the formation of the districts — with at least two of those being council meetings — before the districts are adopted, Houston said.

But according to the city’s timeline, the city, its future demographer and advisory committee will hold a number of other public and community meetings to engage the public in the drawing of the maps.

With the implementation of the districts and the increase in council size, the 2016 election will feature a total of four council races. One of the council members elected that year will only serve a two year term so there will consistently be three seats up in future elections.

The unlucky council member who gets a two-year term will be selected randomly by casting lots, Houston said.

Kring, who is up for reelection in 2016, took umbrage with the random selection and said that many people have complained to her about it. She said she would rather have the council select a district to have the two-year term and that it’s unfair to the electorate and to candidates who are accustomed to four-year terms.

Houston replied that voters were informed of the random selection of the two-year term district in the city attorney’s impartial analysis that accompanied voting ballots.

“A lot of people are going to be very upset about that,” Kring said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek