The Santa Ana City Council moved forward Tuesday on redrawing district boundaries that could mean some of the three incoming council members, who will be elected Nov. 6, would be out in 2020.
The current seven-member Council, including three who are termed-out and have a month left on their seats, unanimously approved Map D-2 out of four possible redistricting plans, and will attempt to finalize the map in a second reading Nov. 20.
The goal is to honor a legal settlement with the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA), which sued the city in April over alleged marginalization of its Asian-American residents by the current “at-large” election system.
As part of the settlement, a proposed ordinance to switch from “at-large” to district elections in Santa Ana will appear before voters on the Nov. 6 ballot. But if voters don’t pass the measure, a court order requiring the city to move forward with the change would be issued anyway, according to the city’s special counsel Kimberly Hall Barlow.
“It was understood that the voters will make a choice. Obviously, the hope was that we wouldn’t be forced to into a situation,” said Barlow during the meeting. “But obviously you can’t be required to make your voters go a certain way.”
If approved, Map D-2 would be implemented in 2020 after the new Council takes office this year. But once the map takes effect, some council members could find themselves sharing their new districts with other council members, forcing them to compete for the seat.
“One of the main issues for the City Council candidates in these maps was the potential there were going to be multiple council members rearranged into the same districts and it would X some of them out,” said Councilwoman Michele Martinez after the Tuesday meeting, adding that under Map D-2, “this could be the case.”
City Council candidates Phil Bacerra and Roman Reyna of Ward 4 and David Penaloza and Irma Macias of Ward 2, would find themselves in the new Ward 3 on Map D-2.
If the map is approved, the council member elected from each ward this year would potentially have to compete for Ward 3 in 2020.
For the last two months, the current Council and its consulting firm Redistricting Partners had been gathering public input on how the city should be redistricted over the course of four community meetings and three public hearings.
Map D-2 had been the most popular with members of the public, many of whom argued during Tuesday’s hearing it best kept communities of interest intact while also enfranchising the city’s west end Asian-American community.
The west end would be bounded by the new Ward 1 under Map D-2, where over 11,000 Asian-American residents would be located, according to a staff report.
Martinez after the meeting said the Federal Census in 2020 could point out different demographics and data.
Assistant to the City Manager Jorge Garcia said in a text message that while the census data for 2020 would not be received until 2021, there is a possibility the findings “may require adjustments in the boundary lines.”
“We’re using old data and it’s before the new council comes in. We should’ve waited for the census, but today we obviously are in the middle of a lawsuit,” Martinez said after the meeting.
Per the settlement between the city and AAJA-LA, the Council must finalize a redistricted map before the new Council takesoffice.
Although the Council unanimously approved Map D-2 on first reading, Councilman Jose Solorio had repeatedly urged consideration of Map C-2 — which he had submitted — and even cut into the council vote on Map D-2 to make a last-ditch appeal for it.
Both members of the public and the City Council expressed concern with Map C-2, however, over what appeared to be gerrymandering in an L-shaped extension of the new Ward 2 into Ward 1.
“That leg in C-2, to me, looks a little tortured. So it looks like we’re trying to make up on some votes, on some numbers,” Sarmiento said. “And we could find that on D-2 as well.”
Solorio argued in the middle of the vote that the L-shape in Map C-2 purely meant to keep a Latino and Asian neighborhood separate, but ultimately yielded to Map D-2 when some council members pressed him. He prefaced his vote by indicating he might not vote “yes” again on Nov. 20.
If the council does not have the five required votes to approve Map D-2 on second reading, the city will either have to select a different map and hold a first reading all over again or continue the discussion to a later date.
Either way could prove problematic as the Council faces pressure by AAAJ-LA to finalize a new map before the new Council takes the dais or risk breaching the settlement, according to Barlow.
“We did pay several hundred thousand dollars to settle this matter. To go and proceed with litigation, I was told, would be an upward of $1-2 million,” said City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
“All the folks that have commented or have come to the chambers were more supportive of D-2,” Martinez said after the meeting. “I appreciate Councilman Solorio trying to fit everything in, but someone’s not going to be happy … When the council does stuff like this, it comes off as political.”
“I think everyone knows that how we got here was very political.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.