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Fullerton voters have decided it’s time to have district elections in their city, as the ballot measure advocating the new electoral system won with 53 percent of the vote.
The move toward district-based voting stems from a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed by attorney Kevin Shenkman on behalf of resident Kitty Jaramillo, and another by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice on behalf of resident Jonathon Paik. The settlement mandates that the city let voters decide if they want to switch to district elections.
The suits alleged the current at-large election system disenfranchises Asian and Latino voters. The city is 22.8 percent Asian and 34.4 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census, for a total of 57 percent of the city. All five council members are white and an Asian hasn’t sat on the council since 2000.
The map, known as 8A, that accompanies the ballot question survived a challenge in court and two court-mandated public hearings — even after Asian and Hispanic communities rallied around their map, known as 2B, for nearly year and garnered nearly universal support for it in their communities through meetings and public hearings.
Map 8A was drawn up by downtown bar owner Jeremy Popoff and was immediately criticized for dividing up downtown Fullerton into five districts. It gives downtown businesses a voice in each council district.
Council candidate Jane Rands said 8A breaks up the Hispanic neighborhoods that are in and surround downtown Fullerton.
“The central part of the city has no representation,” Rands said. “I think disenfranchising the central part of the city (downtown) is disenfranchising Hispanic voters.”
Despite minority and many downtown residents’ opposition to 8A, the City Council chose that map in early August.
“My best analogy is this: Downtown Fullerton is the dinner table of our entire city. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want a chair at that table,” Popoff, owner of the Slidebar bar, wrote in an email to a Voice of OC reporter earlier this year.
Jeanette Vazquez, author of the community-backed map 2B, said that although 8A isn’t perfect, it would help give a voice to underrepresented communities south of Commonwealth Avenue.
She hopes that the community engagement in city hall doesn’t fizzle out after the elections.
“It doesn’t just happen on election day — we need to push to get our voices heard all year long,” Vazquez said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at SpencerCustodio@gmail.com