What’s been buzzing around Anaheim for a few weeks is bleeding into the media (OC Register and VOC): during tonight’s closed session, the Anaheim City Council is expected to settle the ACLU’s lawsuit (for which the lead plaintiff is Anaheim City School District Trustee Jose F. Moreno) to replace the city’s at-large council elections with a system of single-member council districts.
As part of the settlement, it is expected the City Council will agree to carve the city into four single-member districts and then put it to the voters. The judge can’t impose single-member districts by judicial fiat since Anaheim is a charter city; it requires amending the city charter, which can only be done by a vote of the people.
There’s no reason single-member districts couldn’t be placed on the June ballot in hopes of obtaining a”yes” vote that would put single-member districts in place for the November council elections. My guess is the ACLU, the plaintiffs and the rest of the single-member district Coalition of the Left prefer a November election on the grounds its higher (and more Democratic) turnout increase the odds of voter approval.
As readers know, in 2013 the council voted to create four at-large council districts (which doesn’t require amending the charter), and to place on the June ballot measures asking voters to a) incorporate at-large council districts into the city charter and b) whether they want to increase the council to six members. City staff was subsequently instructed to create districts for both a four- and six-seat council, for the city council’s consideration and adoption.
My assumption is the expected settlement would include removal of at least the at-large districts question from the June ballot.
If the settlement tracks with what is being reported and discussed, there will be no impact on the November election, which could prove to be the last time Anaheim citizens will be able to vote for or against any and all council candidates – and not have their choices limited only to those who happen to live in their districts.
What If Anaheim Voters Reject Single-Member Council Districts?
What if, come November, Anaheim voters reject single-member council districts? That is an interesting question. Can a charter city be forced to adopt a different electoral system against the wishes of its citizens, as expressed in an election?
I have serious doubts whether Anaheim voters would adopt single-member districts. For one thing, there is no grass roots groundswell for them, no organized effort by proponents to place the question on the ballot other than badgering the city council to do it for them. The push for single-member districts has come from a generally left-wing coalition of activists and organizations (such as OCCORD, UNITE-HERE and the Democratic Party of Orange County). It’s the same people and groups who also push for retention policies, inclusionary housing mandates, “living wage” requirements, a gate tax and other liberal policies. With the exception of Mayor Tom Tait, the single-member district drive isn’t supported by Republicans leaders or organizations.
To the extent this Coalition of the Left has generated support from ordinary folks, it’s by telling them single-member districts will lead to more parks, better schools, cleaner neighborhoods — more of whatever it is someone wants.
Proponents claim single-member districts are necessary in order for Latinos to have representation on the Anaheim City Council. That notion — that a citizen can only be truly be represented by someone of the same ethnicity or race — goes against the belief in color-blind government. As a practical matter, the election of more Latino council candidates is a demographic inevitability. Left alone, demographics would assert themselves (sooner rather than later) in council elections, just as they have in Santa Ana, Westminster and Garden Grove. It doesn’t require liberal social engineers tinkering with election systems in an attempt to produce a city council with the desired complexion.
It will be interesting to learn the details of the settlement and what they portend for the city’s electoral future.