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Anaheim City Council Districts: An Analysis

Guest Post by Claudio W. Gallegos

This past week, the ACLU, representing Amin David, Jose Moreno (who is an ACSD Trustee) and Consuelo Garcia announced they were suing the city of Anaheim, claiming the current way the City Council is elected shuts out minority representation. They use as evidence the fact that the city is 52.5% Latino and yet has no Latino representation. They also point out four of the five councilmembers live in Anaheim hills, which contains only 1/6 of the city’s total population. It should be pointed out that the Mayor is one of the four and is elected citywide. They Plaintiffs are citing the California Voting Rights Act, which give minority populations protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the right to sue their city or area of jurisdiction when they can show that the current system of electing their representatives unfairly shuts them out of electing representatives of their choice.

The idea of switching from at-large elections to district elections is intriguing. I had the pleasure of working with some of the plaintiffs on the effort to ensure Latino friendly State Legislature and Congressional seats in Orange County and can attest that they have the best interests of the community at heart. Earlier this year, North Orange County Community College District and Rancho Santiago Community College District (an effort I was also proud to be a part of) switched to an at-district format for their seven trustees to comply with the California Voting Rights Act.

Anaheim is the 10th largest city in California and the largest city in California to elect their councilmembers at large. The majority of cities the same size elect their councilmembers by district/ward or have a hybrid system where they elected the entire city votes to elect their councilmembers but they are required to reside in several specific wards, Santa Ana is an example of this system. According to many political insiders, it had become not a matter of if, but when Anaheim would finally make the switch to some sort of district/ward system. It appears that time is now. So what would the districts look like? Will they go to the voters? How many would their be? Would they stay with the current number of Councilmembers and only have four districts or would they expand. There was an effort when Curt Pringle was Mayor to expand to six councilmembers, but did not have enough support on the Council.

While the lawsuit has been filed, the city has scheduled a community forum to be held at Anaheim City Hall on Wednesday, July 11th to get community input. At this point the city has a couple of options. They could fight the lawsuit, seek some sort of settlement with the plaintiffs, create their own district plan or go to the voters with an initiative this November. Fighting the lawsuit is a risk, as they could lose and be forced to create four districts. It should be pointed out the court can only require the governmental body to create districts based on the number of seats that current body has and cannot force Anaheim to expand the council to five, six or seven councilmembers with districts. But should a judge find them in violation of the California Voter Rights Act, they will need to switch to districts regardless if the outcome of a voter initiative in November is to keep the current system. If the outcome of a voter initiative is to switch to council districts this November, that would make the lawsuit moot, regardless of the number of council seats there are.

Now lets look at how the Council Districts would look like. There are several scenarios being thrown around that would either leave the Council at its current number of 4 or expand it to as many as 7 districts. Any plan that either leaves the number at four or expands to six councilmembers would obviously leave the Mayor as a voting member on the Council. An expansion to five or seven councilmembers would make the Mayor’s role on the Council moot and suggests  that would change the Mayor’s role to that of a Chief Executive with potential veto power, in other words a Strong Mayor form of government. Now lets take a look at how these districts could potentially be shaped.

The four district plan would keep the current number of council seats in place but create four districts. The 2010 census population for Anaheim was 336,265, which would make the median for four districts by 84,066. An easy way to shape the four would be to have a North, South, East and West district. The population of the Hills is roughly 56,500 people and would drift into the flatlands area. Only one Section 2 Latino seat can be created under this plan, even though there would likely be two districts with a Latino majority population. The reason for such a variation between general population and CVAP(Citizen Voting Age Population) is due to the large number of Latino residents who are not yet citizens. A Section 2 seat is a district where a “protected minority”(African American, Latino, Asian or Native American) has 50% or more of the Citizen Voting Age Population. For example, the 69th Assembly District is a Section 2 protected seat.

Amin David (Photo: Chris Prevatt)

The risk when it comes to creating these districts for Latinos is the unintentional packing of the population which limits the influence they may ultimately have on the entire governing body. A couple of strategic miscalculations in creating the current Assembly districts in Orange County ended up limiting Latino influence in Orange County. Where they could have had the plurality of influence in two Assembly districts, they only have the majority of the influence in one Assembly district. This is a risk if Section 2 is followed, which is a risk if the plaintiffs outright win in court. The judge is required by law to follow that criteria and create the Section 2 seat. Being strategic in creating those districts is key if the goal is to truly maximize the voting power of the Latino community of Anaheim. One challenge to creating these Section 2 seats is the Latino community is much more spread out through the flatlands of Anaheim. For example, a sizable portion of the Latinos in Anaheim live in what is considered “West Anaheim”, yet they do not comprise 50% of the total population and therefore an even smaller share of the CVAP. This section of the city is truly a multi-cultural area with a large Asian minority.

A plan to expand to six seats could create two Section 2 seats, and would also give Anaheim Hills their own seat, since the median population per district would be 56,044. Yet the potential is there to draw three districts with a Latino CVAP plurality. What is key is drawing these districts in a way that represents everyone’s interests. Plans to expand to five seats and make the mayor a “strong mayor” would still force Anaheim Hills to share some area with the flatlands. While a plan to expand to seven seats would require a portion of Anaheim Hills to be split since the median population per district would be 48,038.

Dr. Jose Moreno, Anaheim City School District Board member and President Los Amigos Orange County

What it will take to make sure the best possible outcome is reached for the people of Anaheim is for due diligence to be done in creating these districts. This means doing several drafts and visualizations, creating different scenarios and analyzing those scenarios and getting input from those in the know on this issue. Chances are the outcome will be a new system in Anaheim of electing their Councilmembers. The question is will it be done right? For the defendants, this may be a chance to show you are on the side of the people and do the right thing and come to an acceptable compromise. To the plaintiffs, this is your chance to complete the mission that began with the recall of Harald Martin, a chance to finally make the Latino working class community a force to be reckoned with, do not let personal grudges hold back the objective goal of better representation for your community. These could be done, but once again it is making sure it is done right and that can only be accomplished by doing the due diligence of drawing out several scenarios to determine which plan would serve Anaheim best. There is a way to do it, but it can only be done by taking the time to do the proper research into drawing these districts.


  1. Greg Diamond Greg Diamond July 2, 2012

    Nice job, Claudio, but I take issue with this statement

    A couple of strategic miscalculations in creating the current Assembly districts in Orange County ended up limiting Latino influence in Orange County.

    unless by that you mean to include the mistaken calculation that Jose Solorio and his allies would care more about ensuring Latino representation in the most Latino Assembly seat in the state than about serving business interests and keeping reformer Julio Perez out of office.

    It would have been possible to construct an even more Latino district than the most Latino district in the state (which I know is not what you are suggesting), but it should have been unnecessary — and it took great machinations by Solorio to ensure that this seat would not be held by a (progressive) Latino. It would have been possible to devise two districts with a substantial Latino presence, but the likelihood is that neither of them would have elected a Latino due to the lower voting rate among Latinos, which is quite evident from the AD-69 election itself.

    A so-called “hybrid” system such as Santa Ana’s would be an abomination — and you don’t have to look past the example of Santa Ana to see why. A candidate can relocate (as is happening in at least one legislative race this year) his or her official residence so long as he or she faces the same electorate. What you can’t do is to have a different electorate than, say, the wonderfully diverse ones of West and Central Anaheim.

    The Council should settle and save the city the money for a losing defense of a lawsuit, but a hybrid system absolutely would not fly.

  2. John Santoianni John Santoianni July 2, 2012

    Another option would be to have 4 districts (East, West, North, & South) and divide a 6 member council amongst them by population. By my calculations that would give East Anaheim 2 seats, West Anaheim 2 Seats, Central Anaheim 1 seat, and South Anaheim 1 seat, with the Mayor elected At-Large from the entire city.

  3. Reader Reader July 4, 2012

    I doubt anyone on the council will vote to change to a Strong Mayor system with the animosity towards the current mayor that the council has. If anything, they’ll wait until after 2014 when the mayor either declines to run for re-election, or runs and loses.

  4. Sharpe Sharpe July 12, 2012

    I have lived in Anaheim for 34 years. Ever since I read of this lawsuit in the O.C. Register, I have been concerned about the allegation that electing our City Council “at large” discriminates against Latinos. This lawsuit is a sham. In the not-too-distant past of 2002, Anaheim had two Latino Council members (Richard Chavez and Bob Hernandez). In 2004 two more minorities were elected (Lorri Galloway and Harry Sidhu). From 2004 to 2006, the Council was 80% minority (two Latinos, one Filipina and one Indian-American).

    First, currently Latinos have as much right to run for an office as does a citizen of any other ethnicity, and there are many ethnicities in Anaheim. Latino names appear regularly on our ballots. If, as the lawsuit alleges, Latinos make up over 54% of the city’s population and they have the right to run for office and vote, then how are they being discriminated against? They’re a majority so, theoretically, they could elect a Latino—their voting en masse could accomplish it—especially given the usual low voter turnouts

    Second, all Latinos do not live in the one part of Anaheim. Some live on the west side, some the east, others downtown, and some in the Hills. So how could one Latino district be formed geographically for election purposes? It would have to take up most of the city while meandering like a sidewinder. A Latino district could be “on paper only”—meaning a rule saying that the Latino candidate who gets the most votes among all Latino candidates would win a seat regardless of whether other candidates received more votes. What a bad idea! Why would Latinos want to isolate themselves into a special district just for them? This nation is supposed to be a melting pot. How would a segregated City Council seat further that ideal? We have many people of Near East origins, many African-Americans, many Asians—should each group have its own seat?

    Third, assuming the population of Anaheim is 354,000 and that 54% (or 191,160) are Latino, how many are of voting age? For this memo, I estimate 30% (or 57,340). It’s common knowledge that many
    Latinos in Southern California are here illegally and can’t vote, so I estimate that of the 30% of voting age, maybe 70% of those (or 40,144) would be eligible to register. If they vote in the same
    numbers as other voters do, only about 25% (or 7,527) will actually vote. That means that only 2% of the population would consistently control a seat (or 20%) on the City Council. The idea is offered that Anaheim’s City Council be chosen by districts, like Santa Ana. Is Santa Ana really such a great place to live that Anaheim wants to emulate it?

    Fourth, ask yourself what services the City performs differently for people based on their ethnicity. All residents get paved streets, street lights, sewers, parks, recreation activities, trash pickup, the best water and electric rates in the county, access to code enforcement, business licensing control, graffiti removal, libraries, planning, zoning, building controls, fire and paramedic services, police patrols as warranted, etc. Also, the City has multi-lingual employees available to help residents who don’t speak English well. Is there any service whatsoever that is allocated differently for any resident because of ethnicity? I can think of none.

    Fifth, what is the real reason a Latino candidate failed to win a Council seat in the most recent election? In this enlightened day, since we are all colorblind, and since this is still a free country, could it be as simple that the electorate just didn’t like this particular candidate’s qualifications, background, experience, agenda or photograph? Could it be they just liked other candidates more?

    Sixth and last, again remembering the most recent election, I believe there may be a hidden reason for this lawsuit. It is best described as a back-door way to get onto the Council a union organizer/leader—who (Surprise!) just happens to also be Latino. When all else fails, play the race card! John Leos has run for a Council seat in the last two elections. He papered the electorate with campaign literature for weeks prior to election day. He didn’t win. He is/was a member, a director and close associate of the head of the Orange County Employees union and a member of the Orange County Peace Officer Oversight Committee. Of course there’s no rule that a union activist can’t be on the City Council, but it shouldn’t be forced upon us under the guise of racial equality.

    The unions with whom the City must deal would cheer at having one of their own on the City Council to further a union agenda. The City deals with many unions (including police, fire, and employees), and the unions were not happy with the 10-year waiver of hotel taxes which the City Council upheld on a 3-2 vote to encourage jobs and business development. Why? Because the more money the City brings in, the more money the employees can demand in collective bargaining for salaries, pensions and health benefits. The SEIU union is also entrenched in the hotel workers of the entertainment area. The more muscle the SEIU can flex, the more they can threaten the income of the businesses that make up the city’s hospitality and entertainment areas, and the more they could influence the City to do things their way by picketing and striking.

    If a union activist were to sit on the Council, that person, potentially, could control the Council by paralyzing it. The person would have many conflicts-of-interest when recusal would be proper. If the
    Council can’t get a majority vote, agenda items don’t pass. It could become a quid pro quo Council—negotiating with the union-affiliated member to get any business accomplished. Some Council members often favor the unions when voting, and electing this particular man would have given the needed majority vote the unions so dearly want. Of interest is that this lawsuit is styled with some plaintiffs being related to the school system, over which the City has no control but, here again, plaintiffs who are union members.

    I hope the Court sees through this sham of a lawsuit. With union dollars backing it, it may well go all the way to the State Supreme Court which we know is liberal. I encourage the current City Council and my fellow citizens not to give in to the demand to split Anaheim into voting districts that would guarantee one ethnicity a Council seat, but to fight it for all of the reasons previously stated.

    Anaheim functions well. I want the best people on our City Council regardless of their heritage or where they reside in Anaheim. Though not always in agreement, our Council takes care of business. We have the best electric and water rates of any city in the county. Anaheim is a big city; it is “big business” that requires knowledgeable business people. Anaheim shouldn’t be bullied and the court shouldn’t be buffaloed into trying to rectify discrimination that doesn’t exist.

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