The Anaheim City Council has voted to approve a compromise settlement with the ACLU on a lawsuit brought by local school board member and liberal activist Jose F. Moreno and two others. After listening to City Attorney Michael Houston recite the terms of the agreement, my initial impression is both sides came away with something.
Here are the terms as best I could catch them during Houston’s report:
- The case is dismissed with prejudice (meaning the ACLU can’t re-file it down the line) and the city is fully released from the plaintiffs claims.
- The settlement is not an admission that the city of any violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) nor that the CVRA is applicable to Anaheim’s election system.
- By February 7, the City Council will:
- Place a single-member council districts charter amendment on the November 2014 ballot for approval or rejection by the voters. If approved, the 2016 council elections will be conducted on that basis.
- Move the proposed charter amendment to expand the city council to six members from the June to November 2014 ballot, and repeal the June ballot measure to incorporate residency-based districts into the City Charter.
- Suspend the residency-based districts the council voted last year to create, and eliminate the council district mapping process currently under way. These will only be re-instated if voters reject single-member districts.
- If the voters approve single-member council districts in November, the council will create a committee of three retired judges who are Anaheim residents to advice the council on creating the districts. if three such judges cannot be found to serve, the council will appoint a 9-member citizens advisory committee that is broadly representative of the city.
One upshot of the settlement is that this November’s council election will be conducted just as they always have, on an at-large basis.
Following Houston’s report, councilmembers had a chance to ask questions and make comments. Mayor Pro Tem Kris Murray posed a series of illuminating questions to Houston, whose answers made several things clear:
The ACLU and the plaintiffs attitude throughout the litigation was that they neither desired nor thought it necessary to ask Anaheim voters if they even wanted single-member council districts. Their interest was in having the court impose them on the city.
If the council had placed single-member council districts on the November 2012 ballot – as Mayor Tom Tait and a platoon of leftists demanded in August of that year — the ACLU and Jose Moreno would have continued to sue the city, and the city would still have had to spend money defending itself. After all, what ACLU and the plaintiffs sought was imposition of single-member districts by judicial fiat – not the opportunity for Anaheim citizens to have a say in the structure of their government.
Behold, your progressive tribunes of the people in in action!
Mayor Tait asked City Attorney Houston if the plaintiffs would have filed their lawsuit demanding single-member council districts if the city council were already elected from single-member districts. Houston responded, unsurprisingly, that he didn’t believe they would have.
So, while switching to single-member council districts is a very real future possibility, the plaintiffs wound up agreeing to something they had tried to avoid – involving the voters of Anaheim in the matter.
UPDATED: Mayor Pro Tem Kris Murray released this statement:
Today’s settlement allows Anaheim to move forward and preserves our residents’ rights to democratic decision-making.
This settlement protects the taxpayers from further expense from a lengthy trial and leaves our citizens in charge of their own elections.
I’m so proud of the work of our residents in debating this issue over the past year and especially the members of our Citizens Advisory Committee, which I proposed to create an open forum on this critical issue for Anaheim.
I also thank Anaheim’s mayor and my fellow city council members for their unanimous support of this victory for Anaheim residents.