Anaheim residents are expected to get a new city council member in the coming weeks – but they’re not going to get to vote for them.

After former Councilman Avelino Valencia was elected to the state Assembly, Anaheim’s district 4 was left without a representative. 

Now, Anaheim City Council members are looking to appoint someone to fill in until the November 2024 election. 

On Dec. 20, city council members voted unanimously to go about filling the vacancy through an application and appointment process. The council is expected to consider an appointment at their Tuesday meeting.

“This is going to be one of the most important decisions that we make that’s going to affect us over the next two years,” said Mayor Ashleigh Aitken at the meeting.

Aitken, whose father Wylie Aitken chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors, asked what her colleagues thought about “asking applicants to be a placeholder and maybe not run as the appointed member going forward.”

But the idea faced pushback from Councilman Jose Diaz who called the move “unconstitutional.”

“I don’t think it would be constitutional to prohibit somebody that is applying now for a temporary job for the person to run later, plus I don’t see the connection. Why does that question have to be there,” Diaz said at the December meeting.

If council members fail to appoint someone to the empty seat by Feb. 2, they will need to call a special election that city staff estimates could cost taxpayers between $206,000-$227,000.

If the council does not select an applicant at the Jan. 24 meeting, they may hold a special meeting on Jan. 31 to consider doing so, according to the city website.

The last time the Anaheim city council filled a vacancy by appointment was over a year ago following the resignation of former district 2 city Councilman Jordan Brandman in 2021.

A majority of the council at that time voted to appoint Gloria Ma’ae, a member of Anaheim First and a resort industry ally who was a member of the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) – a Disney funded political action committee.

Ma’ae’s appointment was criticized by residents as something hashed out behind closed doors.

[Read: Anaheim Council’s Appointment of a Resort Ally Stirs Calls of Rushed, Politicized Process]

Ma’ae ended up narrowly losing her 2022 election bid to Carlos Leon – who had also applied for the vacant seat in 2021 – despite receiving over $300,000 from SOAR to bolster her campaign.

“As the only person out here who went through the application process … there’s definitely some things that I’d like to see done differently with the appointment process for this round,” Leon said at the Dec. 20 meeting. 

He called for outreach to district 4 residents to see what they’re looking for in a representative as well as the city to potentially hold a forum for residents to question applicants.

Leon also called for the appointment meeting to be better organized than last time.

“There seemed to be some confusion in terms of what we as applicants were supposed to expect from that council meeting,” he said.

The city has since advertised the vacancy on its website, social media, the convention center and earlier this month sent out a bilingual postcard to over 21,000 homes in the district regarding the vacancy.

The website also includes a community input form which residents and people who work in Anaheim can fill out about what they think the top issues are in district 4.

Some of the issues listed in people’s responses include: parking, homelessness, and safety.

To view residents’ responses, click here.

The city stopped accepting applications for the open position on Jan. 18.

Applicants include: 

  • Alfred Cuellar – CEO of the Transit Media Group, 
  • Lisa Drake – a finance professor, 
  • Norma Campos Kurtz – who served as a district director for Assemblymember Tom Daly, 
  • Linda Newby – a former member of the chamber of commerce and a former Anaheim First Chairwoman,
  • J. Dean Reynolds – a past board member of the Anaheim Historical Society.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

•••

Start each day informed with our free email newsletter. Be alerted when news breaks with our free text messages.

And since you’ve made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.