Mission Viejo City Councilmembers completed their transition to district elections this week, but many residents aren’t happy with the final voting map or the extended term limits.
The final map, dubbed Map A, was drawn by a demographer hired by the city council, and sets the stage for the next decade of election battles for a city council that has consisted of the same members since 2016.
The council and staff spent very little time discussing the maps at their meeting Tuesday night, with Councilman Brian Goodell as the only one who spoke on why he voted for the final map over Map E, the runner up that was drawn by a resident.
“I personally didn’t like E … because I felt it was racially gerrymandered, and as I pointed out in the last meeting, there were still three times as many non-Hispanic white voters in that district,” Goodell said. “I think A was straightforward and well done, and it lived up to the constitutional requirements … not to be racially gerrymandered.”
The map approved by the council gave every district a voting population that was at least 68% white despite data showing the city’s total makeup was only 61% white.
While Latino voters make up just under 20% of the city’s total population, they failed to garner more than 13% of the total vote in three of the five districts and still fell below 18% in the other two.
Map E-1, the revised version of the original Map E, would have created one district with a Latino voting age population of 21.6%, while the rest ranged between 11-13%. It also would’ve granted white voters an even larger advantage in the other four districts, pushing them all to at least 70% of the citizen voting age population.
To review the map and breakdown of each district’s demographics, click here.
During public comment, residents repeatedly criticized the city council over the fact that Goodell and Councilwoman Trish Kelley would hold onto their seats until 2024, despite the city publishing online they were running for two year terms when they were elected in 2020.
“It wasn’t clear to me I might be electing council members for two years or I might be electing them for four years,” said resident Catherine Palmer. “Choose to run in 2022 so the voters of Mission Viejo will have confidence you’re making decisions in their best interest.”
City Attorney Bill Curley shot back, saying the election code was never changed despite the city repeatedly advertising the seats as a two year term online for multiple years.
“The calling of the election stated four year terms. The only reason two year terms came in any involvement was in the event we could get cumulative voting approved and put into place,” Curley said. “Shame on us for trying to uphold state law to give minority voters a better chance.”
City council members have argued for years it would be impossible to create a district map that doesn’t disenfranchise the Latino community, and fought to implement another system called cumulative voting.
But after four years and two different secretaries of state telling them it would not be possible without the approval of the full state legislature, the city finally threw in the towel.
The shift came after the council were forced to switch from their original at-large system of voting because they were sued by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project alleging their old system disenfranchised Latino voters.
Most of the council members are in separate districts, except for Councilmen Ed Sachs and Greg Raths who could be forced to run against one another in November.
However, Raths is currently pursuing a Congressional seat, and if he is one of the top two vote getters in the June primary, he’ll be busy running for Congress in the fall – leaving Sachs as the only incumbent in the district.
Council members also highlighted the fact that no current council members lived in the city’s new District 1 on the north edge of the city, guaranteeing a new council member would be coming to the dais in the next year.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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