Garden Grove officials don’t want to redraw the districts of their current voter population, a process where the city, a vital organ of Little Saigon, would have to hold community hearings for public input under state law.
A proposal to skip the process altogether led to a public comment pushback wave and city officials quietly dropping the idea — for now — at the start of Tuesday’s city council meeting where staff reported the agenda change with few words.
City council members didn’t discuss it.
Earlier in the day, the city got a letter from the local chapter of the largest civil rights organization in the U.S., the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU).
“Our partners have reached out to the City on multiple occasions to inquire about the redistricting process, to no avail, and only found out yesterday that the Council plans to vote to shut out public input and forgo a redistricting process during tonight’s hearing,” it read.
Garden Grove City Manager Scott Stiles, in a text message during the meeting, said the redistricting item will return to the council at a future date, “next year.”
Asked whether the city would now work toward actual redistricting, Stiles said he would follow up after the meeting.
Garden Grove resident Dorothy Nguyen during Tuesday’s public comment period called the city’s proposal “a clear dismissal of the established redistricting process” and a show of “disregard for the community they serve and represent.”
The redistricting process is one that, under the state FAIR Maps Act, requires cities to hold public, community input forums — “meetings and hearings which have not occurred at all,” Nguyen said.
The controversy comes as Little Saigon’s electoral cohesion across multiple cities in Orange County has become a point of debate at this year’s state-level redistricting process, which has witnessed diverging ideas about where Little Saigon truly begins and ends.
Redistricting matters are more intricate in Westminster, where council members on Wednesday will decide whether to ask voters if the mayor’s position should be scrapped and become a new council seat.
The issue, however, is that the mayor’s seat is currently elected by Westminster voters citywide, while the other four council seats are elected by their own district. The new seat would get a new district, meaning Westminster would go from four districts to five.
Garden Grove officials argue that 2020 U.S. Census data showed minimal population growth since the city settled a voting lawsuit and moved from citywide, “at-large” elections to district-based elections in 2016.
Data gathered in 2019 by the city showed its voting-age population was nearly 45% Asian, 27% Latino and 26% White.
“The minimal increase in population did not affect any one district disproportionally to the others,” the city argued in a staff report attached to Tuesday night’s agenda.
That’s one of the main criteria that redistricting authorities are supposed to consider when redrawing maps. Each district within a government jurisdiction is supposed to have a roughly equal number of voters within a certain margin.
Thus, city officials in their report argued “no adjustments” to their districts’ current boundaries “are required.”
The ACLU lambasted that argument.
“The Resolution’s focus on equality of population, to the exclusion of other criteria, reflects a basic misunderstanding of the decennial redistricting process. Equality of population is not important for its own sake. Instead, equality of population serves the larger goal of decennial redistricting: to ‘achiev[e] fair and effective representation for all citizens,’” its letter reads
“That takes into account not just population changes, but also takes into account communities of interest and any changes over time in other demographic trends,” it adds.
While the population hasn’t grown, “there is a range of nuanced experiences that cannot be fully captured through numbers alone,” said Allison Vo, an organizer for the community advocacy group VietRISE.
“Our experiences living in Garden Grove should not be oversimplified in this manner,” Vo said.
Cynthia Valencia, a senior policy advocate and organizer for the ACLU, welcomed the news during public comment that the proposal was dropped on Tuesday.
“And I just want to reiterate that passing a similar resolution would be unlawful,” Valencia said.
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