Ramirez: Fullerton City Council vs. Public Trust

I was invited by a friend to attend the May 17th Fullerton City Council meeting, as the Council was scheduled to take action on the issue of voting districts and the selection of a map to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.  As an observer of the meeting, I was impressed by the high number of attendees.  It was evident that the cited issue had drawn a significant number of community folks after Mayor Fitzgerald had asked how many were interested in making public comments; over twenty-five attendees raised their hands.

Based on the public comments, out of various proposed maps, two were advocated by the presenters for Council approval; Map 2B and Map # 8.  Quite candidly, the majority of the presenters were very well prepared and articulated their position with sound rationale.

However, a key difference is that one of the maps was community driven and advocates for Map 2B had exercised a seven-month long inclusive process.    On the other hand, based on folks who advocated for Map # 8, it was very clear that this map was business driven. Additionally, the construction of this map can be viewed as exclusive in nature based on the fact that it was recently written and not part of the directed public process.

It is important to note the importance of the public process given the magnitude and the historical significance of the Voting Rights Act of 2001, which is the driving force for the establishment of voting districts.  One of the presenters, Mr. Jonathan Paik, gave an excellent presentation regarding the seven-month long public process.  His detailed comments made it very clear that the process was very inclusive and all had been done to be compliant.  In the final analysis, those who participated in this public process supported Map 2B and encouraged the Council to take appropriate action and approve Map 2B.  The folks who advocated for Map # 8 made it very clear that the construction of this map was basically an “11th hour” product.  Given this clarification, one can surmise that the business owners did not subscribe nor practice a public process.  Hence, the exclusive process prevented the public at large to study and review the merits of the proposed map.

One further observation is that this issue was on the May 17, 2016 agenda, “Public Elections Mapping Process – Voting Districts Formations,” as an action item.  The language read, “Final public hearing to review community input on the City Council voting district elections mapping process, discussion of proposed district maps and selection of map to place before the voters in November election.

Recommendations by the City Clerk’s Office:

  1. Receive presentation and recommendations regarding voting district maps.
  2. Hold fourth and final public hearing to receive public input on district map.
  3. Discuss voting district formation and close public hearing.
  4. Per terms of the Settlement Agreement, select map to include on the November

2016 ballot measure asking voters to decide whether to approve voting district elections as defined by the selected map.”

Based on the language applied in the agenda item above, it is very clear that the majority of those in attendance expected the Council to take action.  Unfortunately, the Council’s decision not to take action has seriously jeopardized a most critical relationship with the community they had taken an oath to serve; public trust.  Council members may eloquently rationalized their decision not to take action.  However, even the Nicholas Jr. High students, who were in attendance at the initial part of the meeting to present their social enterprise business projects, would have been shocked by the Council’s inaction.  Fortunately, they left the meeting after their respective presentation and did not witness a travesty and breach of public trust.

My assessment of the cited observations is that the premise for the Voting Rights Act of 2001 was well demonstrated by what did not happen.  One can only assume that the Council’s inaction was prompted by the need to be “fair’ to the downtown business owners.  However, it was very evident that those who did everything right, followed the public process and were inclusive in all aspects, were treated unfairly.  May 17, 2016 will be viewed by many Fullerton community residents as a “Day of Shame.”

Richard M. Ramirez, Ed.D. Dean, Emeritus, Fullerton College  Dr.Richard.Ramirez@att.net

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

  • Fullerton Rag

    Dean Ramirez, thank you for attending the May 17th meeting of the Fullerton City Council. Your comments above represent a generalization of the proceedings, and would benefit from the inclusion of other salient facts:

    Although it is true that most attendees who spoke that night either supported map 2B or 8, map Map 10 also had supporters, and for this reason was included in the final four maps to be considered by the council on June 7.

    Map 8 is a disaster, and, as you note, was driven by late-to-the-game businesses trying to look out for their own comparatively narrow interests, but Map 2B has its own problems. Map 8 fragments the downtown residents by splitting up their voices, but Map 2B absurdly lumps most of them with Cal State Fullerton. Not a single supporter of 2B that night acknowledged this poor mapping to be a problem, let alone offered a remedy to it. They too, have their own interests in mind, to the exclusion of the interests of others.

    Map 2B itself is a revision of an earlier map offered at one of the public meetings. This revision resulted from a PRIVATE meeting with the city’s hired demographer, David Ely–a meeting to which not all participants in the many public meetings were invited. I believe not all of the people who worked on 2B even live in Fullerton.

    Paid political organizers from the Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO) are working on behalf of 2B. When I met with one, and pointed out how 2B stretched nearly all the way across the city for a forced marriage of CSUF and Downtown Fullerton, he had nothing to say other than that no map was perfect (twice!).

    The item was originally scheduled to be heard on June 7. It was the OCCCO organizers themselves who asked for an earlier date because they were concerned about the item conflicting with election day (perhaps OCCCO organizers will have other professional duties that night (?). There was an option to move it to a later date than June 7, but the OCCCO organizer involved chose the earlier date of May 17. Tough luck. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

    It was not a bad idea to refrain from making a decision on May 17. It should have been obvious to anyone watching that the City Council members were not adequately familiar with the maps or the process to make a responsible decision that night. Instead, they asked that the four maps that had received support from the public that night (2B, 8, 10, and 11) be considered on June 7, and set May 24 as a final date for revisions to these plans that might ameliorate concerns with problems expressed about each respective maps. Has there been a revision offered to 2B to address the concerns about it expressed above?

    Fortunately, there is a free Public Forum scheduled to discuss each of these maps on June 1, 7:00 p.m., at the Community Room of the Fullerton Public Library, 353 W. Commonwealth Ave. The authors of all four maps have been invited. I hope all of them, and you, will choose attend.

  • Scott Smith

    Witness Westminster who has not respect for their citizens to talk about the ballot measure for November 2016. Fullerton is way ahead of the game.

    • Fullerton Rag

      Way ahead, perhaps, but not there yet.