Fullerton City Council members on Tuesday adopted a new voting map that will impact elections in the city for the next decade or so, despite community support for other maps.
At their city council meeting on Tuesday, council members voted 3-2 to adopt the map dubbed 114 with no discussion.
“It’s the clearest in terms of geographical contiguous, has two clear Hispanic districts, one very clear Asian district, is compact, has easily identifiable boundaries, does not discriminate, nor does it favor a political party,” Mayor Fred Jung said about the map at a public hearing held last week.
The decision on the map was made despite residents routinely showing up to public hearings voicing support for a community driven map, dubbed map 110. Some also showed support for a map called 112.
Some residents said they feel like they’ve been completely ignored throughout the process, echoing concerns raised by many during Fullerton’s initial switch to district voting in 2016.
“The community was significantly undercut with this entire process and the adoption of map 114. I think it does a better job of representing communities than the last map, but it still falls short of truly representing the communities of interest in Fullerton,” said resident Ameena Qazi in a Wednesday phone interview.
Tony Bushala, a longtime Fullerton resident and business owner who sat on the city’s redistricting commission, said in a Wednesday phone interview that map 114 gives East Fullerton residents, who live near the 57 freeway, a voice that map 110 doesn’t.
“All those people who live on both sides and 57, they get the smog, the sound, the lights, the noise. That’s a real community of interest,” he said.
Bushala said it was a special interest group made up mostly of people who didn’t live in Fullerton that showed support for map 110 in an effort to keep Councilman Jesus Silva in office. He said they have created a false narrative that they’re not being listened to by commission or the city council.
“They created a map for one person so that he could run for reelection because map 114 put Jesus Silva into a district that’s not up for reelection for two more years,” Bushala said.
Qazi said the map community members had fought for was created after months of discussion and work but they felt dismissed by the decision makers from the very beginning.
“They called us a pressure group,” Qazi said. “There was nothing we could say or do, no amount of organizing and coming together to persuade some of these council members that we had valid voices that needed to be considered.”
She also said that the process felt political.
“There was no deep discussion of the maps and the lines and the communities and how we can improve them,” Qazi said. “There was never that concerted, deliberative process that we were expecting. It was just so imbued with politics.”
Bushala called map 110 political.
“When you’re looking at district elections, you can’t favor one party over another. You can’t favor a candidate over another candidate, you can’t carve out areas so that a candidate can stay in office,” he said.
Councilmen Silva and Ahmad Zahra voted against the map’s adoption.
“There’s merit in their concerns about being ignored,” Silva said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“We as a council will have to do a little more listening to the residents, because again this is a huge process – the redistricting and a huge outcome that impacts residents for another 10 years.”
For Silva, the new map means he’ll be barred from running again for a city council spot until 2024 – two years after his current term ends this year.
“I was disappointed because the (redistricting) advisory committee did in essence, submit three maps to the council to choose from,” he said, adding that map 112 would have kept him in his current district and was supported by the community.
The new map moves Silva out of district three and into district two, the same district as Councilman Nick Dunlap, who was elected in 2020 to a four year term.
Dunlap did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Councilmember Bruce Whitaker voiced support for Map 114 at a meeting last week and acknowledged that the map would move Silva out of his district.
“I understand the one shortcoming here, I think of map 114 is that it does change the residence of one of the sitting council members and I think that’s unfortunate but I think that was a factor of our original map,” he said at the meeting last week. “This map is an attempt to correct that.”
At that same meeting last week, an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called into a public hearing on redistricting and shared concerns about the map selection process.
“It seemed to be an effort to remove one of the more progressive council members, in terms of myself and Zahra,” Silva said in the Wednesday phone interview. “I know that the concern that the ACLU had was that it was diminishing representation in the community.”
Silva said this is not the first time he has been impacted by the redistricting process and that he plans to run again in 2024.
“I’ve been impacted by this redistricting twice, in a short time of four years,” he said. “They did the same thing to me back in 2018.”
Silva was elected in an at-large election in 2016, but after the city transitioned to district elections found himself having to run again.
He said he felt the previous map was gerrymandered to include former city councilman Greg Sebourn in district three.
“That was, I think, intentional on the prior council, when Mayor (Jennifer) Fitzgerald put that map together,” he said.
Sebourn sat on the redistricting commission that recommended the maps to the city council.
The commission has drawn criticism from residents for including Sebourn as well as Shawn Nelson, another former city council member and current chief assistant district attorney.
Fullerton Moves to District Voting After Lawsuit
In 2016, a majority 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.
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 in 2016 and an OC Superior Court Judge ordered the city to hold one more public hearing before adopting the map to attach to the ballot question.
Last year, residents and advocates began calling on the city to create an independent redistricting commission to help with the process and make the final decision.
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 map recommendations to the council.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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