Hundreds of protesters advocating for district voting shut down an Anaheim City Council meeting in January 2016. Credit: Nick Gerda / Voice of OC

After months of controversy over the adoption of a city council districts map in Anaheim, council members Tuesday night stuck by their decision to restore the “people’s map” and put the district with the largest number of Latinos up for election this year.

Tuesday’s unanimous vote was the final decision needed to implement the map and determine which districts will elect council members this year and which districts will have to wait until 2018.

“This is the people’s map. This is the people’s process,” said Mayor Tom Tait. “Long road… we’re here tonight. This is an historic moment”

The road included several twists and turns. It was unclear up to the last minute whether council members would stick by the districts map, which has been dubbed the “people’s map” because of its broad community support.

The map is a product of a lawsuit filed in 2012, which alleged that the city council’s at-large electoral system violated California’s Voting Rights Act because it did not allow Latinos, who make up 53 percent of the city’s population, to elect their candidates of choice.

The city settled the lawsuit by putting a measure calling for the implementation of a council-districts system before voters on the 2014 ballot. A panel of judges recommended the map after a series of hearings.

The map included a Latino majority district, which meant that citizen voting age Latinos make up more than 50 percent of the district’s population; and two Latino plurality districts, which means that citizen voting age Latinos outnumber other groups in the district, but don’t make up more than 50 percent of its population.

In November another battle erupted when the council majority decided that the only Latino majority district would have to wait until 2018 to elect a council member, while other districts would be up for election this year.

Activists were outraged and accused the council majority of a racist intent to deny Latinos representation on the council.

Instead of allowing the district to hold its election this year, Councilman Jordan Brandman concluded that the map itself was the problem because it only had one Latino majority district. He and the council majority scrapped the map and restarted the map selection process.

In response, hundreds of activists showed up to the Dec. 8 council meeting and shouted down council members until Mayor Tom Tait was forced to prematurely adjourn the meeting. After activists escalated their pressure further, the council majority flipped again and voted to restore the People’s Map and put the Latino majority district up for election this year.

But then there was yet another twist last week when city officials revealed that the only Latino majority district in the map was no longer majority Latino. Based on the latest U.S. Census estimates, the number of Latinos dropped to 49.1 percent, a 1.7 percent dip, according to a city staff report.

Latino activists remained in support of the map. And in casting her vote Tuesday, Councilwoman Kris Murray said her office had been in contact with prominent Latino organizations and had received confirmation that they still supported the map, meaning the estimated population change was unlikely to draw a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

After the vote, activists cheered and celebrated their victory outside City Hall. They vowed to wage a grassroots campaign to win enough to districts to gain the majority, an achievement made all the more likely by the map and the inclusion of the most Latino district in this year’s election.

“Our hard work has just begun brothers and sisters,” said Ada Briceño, interim executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD). “In November, we’re going to turn this city council.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

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