According to Attorney Kevin L. Shenkman, representing former city council candidate Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo in her lawsuit against the City of Fullerton, a measure to establish district elections for the Fullerton City Council will be put before the Fullerton electorate in 2016. Although the City of Fullerton does not seem to have released any details about the settlement, Mr. Shenkman was happy to discuss the agreement during a presentation on the subject of district elections sponsored by the political action committee Neighbors United for Fullerton (NUFF) on Monday night. The ballot measure will reportedly preserve a five member city council, each of whom will be elected exclusively within single districts in which they reside. Pre-established district boundaries will be part of the measure as it will appear on the ballot. If approved, elections by district are expected to begin in 2018, although it remains unclear which districts would be the first in play during that election. Term limits, adopted by Fullerton voters in 2010, would not be affected..
District boundaries will reportedly be determined following input received by residents during a dozen public meetings to be held throughout the city during the coming year. Mr. Shenkman also explained that the lawsuit technically continues, but will be on hold until it is known whether or not the ballot measure has passed successfully. If the district elections plan is not passed by the voters, the plaintiff is expected to continue to seek redress, possibly in the form of another district election plan. Payment of legal fees for the suit (and, presumably the simultaneous suit bought by the ACLU) have yet to be determined.
During the most recent City Council meeting of May 5, the attending City Attorney had only the most opaque report from the closed session where the case was considered, immediately preceding the public meeting: ‘Regarding the lawsuits of Jaramillo vs. Fullerton and Paik vs. Fullerton, a motion was made by Mayor Pro Tem Fitzgerald, seconded by Council Member Flory to approve the final terms of the settlement agreement covering both cases, which motion passed by a 4-1 vote, with Council Member Whitaker voting “No.” The final form of the settlement agreement will be available upon execution by all parties.’
Ms. Jaramillo’s lawsuit alleges that the city’s current method of electing at-large council members “impairs the ability of certain races to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections conducted in the city of Fullerton.” The second suit, bought by the ACLU on behalf of Jonathan Paik, similarly alleges that, under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, ethnic minorities in the city are effectively denied representation on the Fullerton City Council. The suits mirror others filed against cities throughout the state, all of which, according to the presenters from the NUFF forum on Monday, have been successful in instituting district elections, although individual cities have adopted different plans to address these grievances. Fullerton’s neighboring city of Buena Park, for example, is reportedly set to adopt a district elections plan directly, without waiting for approval by the voters.
At this time it is unclear why the City of Fullerton has not issued a public statement about the plan, which would represent the most profound change in the city’s election process since it was founded over a century ago, and why it falls to a modest local editorial website to break the story.