Proponents of council districts like to say “Anaheim is the largest city in California without council districts” as if that isolated fact were an argument in and of itself. Anaheim is also the largest city in the California with a major Disney theme park. So what?
In my experience, denizens of the Left think that sort of rhetoric is extremely compelling. How many times have we heard them argue “The United States is the only major industrial democracy in the world without (fill in desired liberal social program du jour),” as if “everyone else is doing it” is a reason to do anything.
Be that as it may, let’s take a look at these other, more progressives cities that elect their councilmembers by districts:
Los Angeles: a broke metropolis of 3,792,621 with 15 council districts. Broke and getting broker. Under the thumb of public employee unions and various left-wing pressure groups (larger cousins of the coalition pressing for single-member districts in Anaheim).
San Diego: a city of 1,322,553 with nine council districts. Ground zero of the municipal pension bomb.
Stockton: a city of 201,707 with six council districts. The largest American city to file for bankruptcy. Ever. And ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America, to boot.
Santa Ana: a city of 324,528 with six districts. A fiscal basket case.
Boy, a real collection of real exemplars of fiscal probity! Why wouldn’t the citizens of Anaheim want to emulate their example!
In stark contrast, Anaheim, a city of 336,265 has a five-member city council elected on an at-large basis, has not come close to the brink of the budgetary chasm and its fiscal situation is improving.
I do not claim a causal relationship between these cities dire financial situation and the fact they elect their councils by district. But it’s had to miss to key distinction between Anaheim and its large-city brethren council-district systems: Anaheim is in solid fiscal shape, the other cities are embroiled in varying degrees of fiscal disaster.
If Anaheim is being urged to follow the lead of these other large California cities by embracing council districts, then it is fair to ask how well those cities are governed. The obvious answer is: badly.
The proper goal of governance reform ought to be making the governance structure better able to fulfill government’s reason for existence: to secure our natural rights, in a manner in which the will of the majority is represented while respecting the right of the minority. District proponents haven’t mounted much of an argument beyond claiming there haven’t been “enough” Latinos elected to the Anaheim City Council, and they think single-member districts will remedy that (as well as usher the Age of Aquarius into Anaheim).
There is an argument to be made for council districts in Anaheim. I think it is a weak one, and that the argument against them is much stronger. But judging by the dysfunction of their municipal governments, the example of other large California cities is hardly a compelling one.