Readers will recall that Fullerton’s Legislative Platform determines the City Council’s “position on legislative issues that have the potential to directly or indirectly impact the City of Fullerton,” according the staff report attached to item on the April 15 agenda.
This City Council may decide to support or oppose the concept of district elections in Fullerton, rather than the current at-large system used to elect members that body.
The neighboring City of Anaheim spent millions of dollars holding off a lawsuit brought by the American Civli Liberties Union to force the city to allow voters to decide whether or not to elect city council members by individual, exclusive districts rather than the at-large system in place today.
A settlement with the ACLU will finally allow Anaheim residents the opportunity to cast their vote to amend the city’s charter or not to adopt a district model. Anaheim is the largest city in California still using an at-large system that has been characterized as discriminatory against the Latino half of the city’s population, who are rarely, if ever, represented on the council.
Fullerton has no city charter. A State Senate bill would force General Law cities, like Fullerton, with a minimum population of 100,000, to switch to the sort election by district process that Anaheim voters will either adopt or reject later this year. But it is more difficult to make the case for elections by district in Fullerton than it is in Anaheim. Although there are currently no Latinos on the council, Sharon Quirk-Silva, who formerly served two full terms on the council is proof that a Latina can be elected with the right coalition of supporters. And at least one Korean-American has served on the Council in the past, and Korean-American candidates have appeared on ballots in recent elections. There is no reason to think that voters are rejecting them based on their ethnicity.
More troubling is the economic divide that sees nearly all council members residing in wealthier neighborhoods north of Commonwealth Ave., much as Anaheim City Councilmembers tend to come from Anaheim Hills, and not from the “flatlands,” where nearly all Latino residents in that city live. Fullerton’s Latino population are to some extent also localized in a area far from the affluence of the hills. Dividing our city into individual districts may simultaneously address the lack of Latino representation and give residents of south Fullerton a greater voice, but one could cancel out the other. In order make such a system effective, the districts would have to be carefully drawn to avoid disenfranchising one group while trying to help another. Fullerton’s sizable Korean population lives mostly in the new developments in the city’s northwest corner, a relatively wealthy area that is too small for a district that would include 20% of the city’s population.
The implications of either supporting or opposing this bill could be profound. A presentation about the subject prior to the Legislative Platform item should serve to inform the City Council, but even if public comments are considered, support or opposition for such a significant change to our election process should not be decided that night. The City Council should either oppose this bill or not take a position on it until they have carefully considered its implementation locally.
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