Fullerton City Council members this week picked a new voting map that will impact city elections for the next decade or so, but some say the city officials failed to take into account testimony from one major stakeholder group: the residents.
Residents say they feel like all the input they’ve given on a decision that will impact their local representation was completely ignored.
For a while now, they’ve been showing up to public hearings calling for council members to select a community backed map, dubbed map 110. Some have also shown support for another map, 112.
“The impact of what has been done over the last several months is to continue to disenfranchise people who have come forward even after the debacle of 2016. Tonight, you have an opportunity to turn things around. Please do put map 110 up on the screen again (and) map 112 up on the screen again. Listen to us,” said Ameena Qazi, a Fullerton resident, at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
A petition calling on the council to pick map 110 has also been circulating online and as of Wednesday morning has garnered 131 signatures.
Instead, council members voted 3-2 at their meeting on a first reading of an ordinance adopting Map 114.
Councilman Bruce Whitaker supported 114 for its “elegance” and “simplicity,” saying it defined clear district boundaries.
“One other major requirement is that map 114 does respect and it creates Latino majorities – fairly strong majorities in districts four and five. And we have an Asian majority in district one, which is intended to help create fair representation,” he said at the meeting.
Councilmen Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra were the dissenting votes.
“There’s merit to every map. The question is will there be trust after this?” Zahra asked at the meeting. “I really don’t know what much to say. I mean this is supposed to be a community effort.”
The newly approved map 114 moves Silva, who supported Map 112, out of his district and puts him in the same district as Councilman Nick Dunlap.
It also bars Silva from running for office until 2024. His current term ends this year, meaning Silva has to sit on the sidelines for a couple years.
At the meeting Silva made a substitute motion to try and change the election sequencing to allow him to be on the ballot this November.
“I would ask that in order to be a little fair and be a little more competitive, we move district two into the cycle for this November up for election, so that I have a chance to stay on,” he said. “I would still like an opportunity to compete this November.”
None of Silva’s colleagues supported his proposal.
The decision on the map came after about 50 minutes of public comments, which were dominated by residents who favored map 110.
However, some people spoke in favor of map 114.
David Zenger, a former 20-year Fullerton resident and a founder of Fullerton Heritage, called map 110 an “abomination.”
“It’s a political map designed to keep one guy in office,” he said about map 110 at the meeting. “Map 114 is clearly the superior map. Without a doubt. It honors communities of interest, particularly along the 57 corridor. It recognizes the main north-south split along Malvern and Chapman, and most importantly, it recognizes compactness.”
Others however say their input has been disregarded and felt unheard.
Many of the residents who criticized the process said the way the council picked the map is a reminder of the first time the city was split into districts and picked a map.
Fullerton Moves to District Voting After Lawsuit
In 2016, 53% of Fullerton voters decided to adopt district elections.
The vote stemmed from two lawsuits filed against the city alleging officials were violating the California Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising Asian and Latino voters and a settlement was reached in 2015.
Back in 2016, council members ended up picking a map submitted at the last minute in anticipation of the ballot measure.
It received backlash from residents who had advocated for a community driven map, which had gone through numerous public hearings and forums.
A motion was even filed in court over the map council members picked back then.
Residents like Kitty Jaramillo, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that forced Fullerton to change to district elections, pointed out the similarities between the two processes at Tuesday’s meeting.
“After several community meetings, emails from residents, Zoom calls … We thought map 110 would be seriously looked at, but the nonsense that Mayor (Jennifer) Fitzgerald put to us through (in 2016) seems to be happening again,” she said.
Jaramillo sat on the city’s redistricting advisory commission.
Residents Call for Independent Redistricting Commission
Given the experiences in 2016, residents and advocates last year have called on the city to create an independent redistricting commission to help with the process and make the final decision.
Zahra said at the meeting he backed an independent commission, which he said would have avoided mistrust from the community.
“We are supposed to be encouraging openness and encouraging people to trust government,” he said. “Yet, here we are setting a process that does quite the opposite.”
Instead, the council opted to have a redistricting advisory commission, made mostly of people appointed by city council members, to conduct two public hearings on the process and make recommendations to the council on what map to pick.
The commission has drawn criticism for including former city council members Greg Sebourn and Shawn Nelson.
Julia Gomez, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of South California, called into the meeting to share the ACLU’s concerns about the redistricting process in Fullerton, the selected map and alleged gerrymandering.
She said Map 114 was a result of a “drawing process that included many former county council members that ran against, for example, current council member Jesus Silva and lost – as well as other truly special interest groups that have funded many council members’ campaigns here.”
Fullerton’s New Map vs Community Backed Map
Fullerton has a citizen voting age population of nearly 91,000 people – 43% are white, 28% are Latino and 24% are Asian/Pacific Islander residents, according to the data provided by the city on the selected map.
Map 114, the selected map, would create a majority Asian voting district in district 1 in the northwest part of town where Asians would make up 56% of the eligible voting population.
It would also create a majority white voting district in district two, the central and northern part of town where white people would make up 61% of the eligible voting population.
In district 3, the northeast part of the city, white people would make up 47% of the eligible voting population and people of other races would have a lower percentage of eligible voters.
In district 4, the south west part of town, Latinos would make up 46% of the eligible voting population and in district 5, the south east part of town, they would make up 40% of the eligible voting population, while people of other races would have a lower percent of eligible voters.
Map 110, the community driven map, would create a majority Asian voting district in district 1 where Asians would make up 52% of the eligible voting population.
It would also create a majority white voting district in district 2, where white people would make up 60% of the eligible voting population and in district 3 White people would make up 50% of the eligible voting population.
In district 4, Latinos would make up 46% of the eligible voting population and in district 5 they would make up 41% of the eligible voting population while people of other races would have a lower percent of eligible voters.
Mayor Fred Jung said at the meeting that map 114 creates a stronger Asian majority in district one then the other maps.
“I am a product of the Asian district that district elections afforded. I’m a direct product of that so I’m very conscious of what I represent, and who I represent in that community,” he said.
Kayla Asato, a redistricting organizer with the nonprofit Orange County Environmental Justice, said in an interview Wednesday that map 114 has a total population deviation of 9.4% from the total deviation.
“It’s right on the limit of what is even acceptable,” she said.
Asato also said the reason district 1 has a greater percent of eligible Asian voters in map 114 is because it is underpopulated.
“It has 56% Asian demographics, but that’s because it’s under populated by like 6 or 7%,” she said.
There are also 17,237 eligible voters in District 1 in map 114 and 18,980 eligible voters in district 1 in map 110.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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