On Monday evening from 6:45 to 8:30 p.m. the political action committee Neighbors United for Fullerton (NUFF) presents “Are District Elections Right for Fullerton?” at the Osborne Room of the Fullerton Public Library, 353 W. Commonwealth Ave. Admission is free to the attending public.
The program features Whittier College Professor Eric Lindgren and Attorney Kevin L. Shenkman discussing “why and how the current system for electing the city council could be replaced by a district-based approach that enhances representation of the city’s varied citizenry”.
Readers may already be aware that the City of Fullerton currently faces two different lawsuits alleging that the at-large system of electing members to the city council discriminates against minority ethnic groups.
As noted by the Rag in January, two-time City Council candidate Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo has filed a lawsuit against the City of Fullerton, contending that Latino residents are disenfranchised by the city’s current practice of electing five at-large council members. Relief would presumably be found in an election-by-district system, where residents would vote for candidates to represent only their individual district among five (or more?) in the city.
In March another lawsuit was filed by the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Jonathan Paik, described on the ACLU’s website as “a representative of Fullerton’s sizable Asian-American population”.
Both lawsuits seek relief with the institution of district elections, which would presumably be based on boundaries drawn to create Asian and Latino majority districts, leading to more diversity on the council. A council majority in the City of Anaheim held off a similar lawsuit for years until finally compromising by putting it on the ballot in 2014, where it passed. Fullerton is expected to settle the two lawsuits against the city in a similar manner, by placing it on the ballot, letting voters decide whether or not to adopt the district system.
The facts are undeniable. Southern areas of the city are largely Latino, while the Northwest seems almost exclusively Korean, yet neither group currently has representation on the city council. It hasn’t always been so. Korean-American Julie Sa served six years on the council, while Sharon Quirk-Silva served two full terms and went on to be elected to the California State Assembly. No other Asian-Americans have been elected to the body. The only other Latino name on the city’s website timeline of past mayors and council members is that of Louis Velasquez, despite Mexican-Americans making up a significant part of Fullerton’s population for most (probably all) of it’s history.
Recent past elections included Korean-American Roland Chi and Kitty Jaramillo herself as candidates. A close analysis of precincts would shed light on whether or not either would have had a chance at being elected if they ran exclusively in Korean or Latino districts, respectively. It could be argued that neither was a particularly strong candidate, each being overshadowed by others with better name recognition, more grass roots backing, or just more money. But that could be just the point, that smaller districts would lead to less expensive elections for each area.
Detractors would also contend that district elections lead to fiefdoms controlled by council members concerned only with their own districts and needlessly fragment the city by ethnic identity. Two things are certain if an elections-by-district process is ultimately adopted by Fullerton. First, individual campaigns would tend to be less expensive because candidates would only have to run in one-fifth of the city. Second, the council would (almost) certainly become even more conservative as a whole because Republicans outnumber other parties in most precincts.
The Rag looks forward to the program Monday night, and encourages readers to attend.