Crossposted on OCRegister
Over the past several weeks, there has been a very public dialogue questioning how the City of Anaheim is governed and whether the current system should be changed. The media stories following the city’s special meeting on August 8 were rife with sensational headlines claiming that the Council majority had rejected or blocked an initiative that would change the city’s charter to elect council seats by districts from the current at-large system. This is patently false.
In early June, the city was sued by the ACLU claiming that Anaheim is not in compliance with the California Voters Rights Act (CVRA). The city was in the process of responding to that litigation when the officer involved shootings of two suspected gang members in late July ignited the recent unrest in our streets.
There are still many questions to be answered surrounding those shootings and several independent investigations are already underway to do so. Although some have asserted that there may be a correlation between the two issues, the city would be irresponsible to undertake wholesale change of its entire electoral system without first providing an opportunity for extensive citizen dialogue, careful legal analysis, and consideration of the options available to meet voters’ concerns for fair representation.
Following the lengthy special meeting on August 8, the Council majority found that the ballot initiative proposed by the Mayor was deeply flawed and that rushing a single option before the voters in November was simply not fair. Mayor Tait presented one proposal—four districts, with a city-wide elected mayor, just a few days earlier; then, with just than 24 hours’ notice, he amended it to six districts, with a city-wide elected mayor; but at the same meeting, public members held up signs calling for eight districts. The measure championed by the mayor, subject only to a “yes” or “no” vote would have excluded all other options and voices in our community, amending the City’s Charter. These are decisions that must not be taken lightly and I cannot support.
Instead of proceeding with a flawed proposal, the Council majority approved the establishment of a Citizens Committee for Elections and Community Involvement in Anaheim to engage residents in a discussion that considers all possibilities and to make a recommendation that has first received appropriate public scrutiny and input. Districts sometimes achieve the goals that have been discussed recently in Anaheim (Madera Unified is one example), but sometimes they do not (such as the City of Modesto). Other options include “cumulative voting,” which one of the authors of the California Voting Rights Act urged the city to consider, and “residency-based districts” system used in Newport Beach and Santa Ana, where each Councilmember must reside in a given district but all residents continue to cast votes for all members of the Council.
The point is that the City of Anaheim should do the research, hear from diverse ethnicities and all neighborhoods on their objectives for change, and engage the residents in defining any proposed changes to city governance before jumping into a yes/no vote on one plan, proposed by one member of the City Council, with zero public input.
There are those who have lamented that the Citizens’ Committee will do nothing but “study” the issue and effectively kill any chance for change before 2014. That also is a falsehood. The committee is set to form immediately and its recommendations could be before Anaheim voters in time to ensure any changes are in place for the 2014 elections. The mayor’s initiative would not have brought change to Anaheim any faster.
The Anaheim City Council is equally committed to full electoral participation and addressing the tragic events of the last few weeks. But we must be willing to work together to unite Anaheim again. It is time for careful consideration of the issues before us, with all diverse aspects of the community participating. As I have said all along: if we are going to make significant change to how the citizens of Anaheim are governed, engaging the people of Anaheim first before one or more options goes before the voters is the right thing to do.
As one member of the council, elected to serve the city at-large, I will continue to work with all residents of Anaheim to ensure their voice is heard and considered in this and all vital city issues.