Throughout Orange County, city council members have the final say on what their districts will look like ahead of their election, but one Irvine Councilwoman keeps bringing up a potential alternative despite it being voted down by her colleagues. 

While Councilwoman Tammy Kim has been one of the city’s biggest opponents for switching to district elections, she’s now set her sights on approving a system that would be a first for Orange County, where council members would have no say over designing the districts they have to run in. 

[Read: Irvine Voters Might Get Choice To Expand City Council, Switch to District Elections]

“There is no reason why as a council we need to be involved except to put our thumb on the scale,” Kim said in an interview with Voice of OC. “There would be no accusations for any one of us putting a thumb on the scale to benefit other candidates, ourselves, or anybody.”

Kim wants a 13-person panel, appointed by city staff including the city manager, city attorney and an outside nonprofit, to handle all the public outreach for drawing up new maps. 

Under her plan, that map would be approved by the appointed panel independently of the council and sent to the ballot for a final say from Irvine voters.  

Kim’s proposal is similar to the 14-person panel the state government uses to set up new districts for state assembly, state senate and congressional races every 10 years. 

Her idea received support letters from both the ACLU’s Southern California branch and California Common Cause, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding voter rights and redistricting reform. 

“We urge the Irvine City Council to establish an independent districting commission,” wrote ACLU staff in their letter to the city. “The purpose of an IRC is to ensure that communities—not politics or special interests— are prioritized in the line-drawing process by allowing city residents to serve completely independent of the Council.” 

So far, a majority of her city council colleagues haven’t been convinced. 

At a special meeting that ran well past midnight on Feb. 21, Kim’s districting proposal was shot down on a 2-3 vote, with only her and Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder voting yes.

At that meeting, Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilman Larry Agran argued that a commission would be largely dysfunctional and pull the discussion out of the public’s hands. 

“Anybody can participate, any group can participate. That’s really not in my view council driven. That is community driven,” Agran said, referencing the council process. “Setting up a 13-member committee or commission, that is a recipe for disaster. It’s a trainwreck from day one.” 

The majority’s plan would see the city council ultimately select a final map to put on the ballot, which would then be sent out to the voters for their approval during the March 2024 primary election, along with a measure calling for the expansion of the city council from five to seven members. 

The council is also required by law to host multiple outreach meetings and public forums to discuss the final maps that are approved, but the council ultimately has the final say on what goes to the ballot. 

Several public commenters also accused Kim of using the new method as a delay tactic, to kill any change at districts moving forward altogether. 

“I want this to move forward as quickly as possible,” Kim said at the meeting. “But it should be independent … it should not be incumbent led.” 

After that meeting, Kim accused Khan, Agran and Councilman Mike Carroll, the three who voted against her proposal, of attempting to skew the maps in their favor in an interview with Voice of OC. 

Kim pointed to the fact that Carroll and Agran live so close together, it would be impossible to draw a map that didn’t put the two of them together. 

She also accused Khan of planning to create a district that would assist former Councilman Anthony Kuo in returning to the council. 

In a text to Voice of OC, Khan disputed that accusation. 

“(Vice Mayor) Kim has been making a lot of accusations lately that seem to stem from her own personal fears,” Khan said. “I look forward to supporting a map created by the community, not by 13 selected people. And at the end of the day, our voters will decide if they approve the map on the March 2024 ballot.”

Agran also denied any allegations of manipulating the district process, arguing that it was just Kim continuing to oppose district elections. 

“That’s ridiculous,” Agran said in a text to Voice of OC. “To ensure fairness, the City Council has provided for more than 15 public meetings and hearings and full engagement of the public in the map-drawing process.” 

 Carroll did not respond to requests for comment. 

Councilwoman Treseder, the only elected official to support Kim’s proposal, argued there would be a strong temptation for council members to push things their own way. 

“I try to behave with as much integrity as possible, but I’m human and I would be tempted if I were up for election to put my thumb on the scale,” Treseder said at the council meeting. “Even if our current city council would never do such a thing, 10 years from now when we have to redraw the districts you never know who’s going to be on the council then.”

Kim also brought the item back for another discussion at the council’s Mar. 14 meeting, where it was again voted down on the same lines. 

At that meeting, Agran argued that even if the final map is gerrymandered or edited by the city council, it’ll ultimately be up to the voters to put a stop to it. 

“I don’t know how you could construct a more thoroughly democratic process,” Agran said. “I just have every confidence we’re going to have very fair maps.” 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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