One of the arguments against dividing Anaheim into single-member council districts is that it makes the council dynamic more parochial and fractious because councilmembers will tend to place the interests of their section of the city above the interests of the city as a whole.
We saw that in action on December 9 when members of the OC Water District Board of Directors were explaining why they were voting for or against leasing the Ball Road Basin for the construction of a power plant. Seven of the 10 members of the OCWD Board are elected from single-member districts (they call them “divisions”). Director Cathy Green represents Division 6, which is composed of parts of Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach.
Green told the crowd of Anaheim residents and business employees she had prepared explanations for casting a vote in favor and against the power plant least, and announced she would support leasing Ball Road Basin to Competitive Power Ventures. Green said the lease would generate revenue for the OCWD, which would benefit her constituents in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach — and she reminded us that it was their interests she had been elected to represent. Not the interests of the OCWD as a whole (which includes how the district interacts with and impacts neighboring communities), but the interests of her Division 6 residents.
It’s useful to note here that this vote went against Anaheim by the barest of margins: 6-4. If one more director had voted “no” instead of “yes,” the lease proposal would have been defeated and Anaheim would have to spend the next 18 months fighting the siting of a power plant on the Ball Road Basin.
In October, the contentious issue of the homeless encampment in La Palma Park came to a head as the City Council, responding to the pleas and protests from residents who lived near the park or tried to use it, enacted an anti-camping ordinance.
What if the council had been elected from single-member districts, instead of at-large by all Anaheim voters? Would the councilmembers the districts that didn’t include La Palma Park have been as responsive to the concerns of those neighborhoods’ residents, who would never be able to cast a vote for or against them?
These issues also illustrate that councilmembers who are elected at-large will be concerned about issues in every part of the city. Anaheim community activist Keith Olesen put it succinctly in this Facebook post earlier this month:
As we enter 2014 and the council and mayoral campaigns ramp up, single-member council districts will be one of the issues the candidates debate. It’s useful for that debate to be informed by what happens in the real world, rather than in theories wrapped in good intentions.