Obligatory Intro…Tuesday night, May 17, the Fullerton City Council was scheduled to choose the single map that will break Fullerton into separate districts to put before voters in November. Under this new system, each of (probably) five districts would elect a single member to the City Council, replacing the current system of electing all council members at-large across the whole city. A settlement agreement with the plaintiffs who sued the city on behalf of underrepresented minority groups (Asian and Latino) requires that the City Council choose a map of district divisions for approval by the voters along with the proposition itself to adopt the district-based system. If the initiative is defeated at the polls, the mapping process would likely be sent to a judge.
For more than eight months the city’s hired consultant demographer held public workshops, met individually with residents, and updated the City Council on the process. The city even put software online that allowed people to directly create their own maps. The goal of these exercises was to create a map of voting districts of equal populations that didn’t fracture neighborhoods or other obvious “communities of interest.” At the May 11 council meeting, four of the eleven publicly submitted maps received support by members of the public, often the authors of the maps themselves, who spoke to the council during the public hearing. The council decided to narrow the number of maps for consideration down to these four maps. They are numbers 2B, 8, 10 and 11. The council will make a final decision on June 7.
And now, the story…# 8 of the 11 maps submitted was by Jeremy Popoff, owner the SlideBar, located on Commonwealth Avenue, just east of Harbor Blvd. His map is remarkable for having been designed for the expressed purpose of having all five districts meet in Downtown Fullerton. How do we know? Because Mr. Popoff and his bar owner friends expressed this wrongheaded rationale in force last Tuesday as they tried to convince the City Council that it was somehow in all of Fullerton’s interest to gerrymander a voting districts map for 135,000 or so residents around their businesses.
One after another the owners of Branagan’s, Florentine’s, Joe’s, etc., explained that when people thought of Fullerton, they thought of our tiny downtown entertainment district, but instead of giving that district its own representation, it should be split five ways so every district has a piece of it. According to their backwards logic, the downtown area is so important to everyone in Fullerton that everyone in Fullerton deserves a voting district that “touches” downtown. What they mean by downtown, however, is a few small blocks surrounding the intersections of Harbor Blvd./Chapman and Harbor/Commonwealth, where their lucrative bars are located. What they don’t mean by downtown are the many neighborhoods surrounding their businesses—the homes of the residents who actually have a stake in the area because they happen to live there, and suffer the ill effects of the bars on a regular basis. These are the residents the bar owners are desperate to split up into the narrow fingers of five different districts literally stretching to every border in the city. (One tortured district implausibly stretches over the entire south border of Fullerton—just look at the map).
Downtown residents would be inappropriately lumped into one of five voting districts that would contain Cal State Fullerton, Amerige Heights, St. Jude Medical Center, Hillcrest Park, Fullerton College, or some other major institution, fracturing their historic neighborhoods into minority slivers, easily overlooked by council members concerned with other issues in their respective districts. The hubris of the bar owners was matched only by their collective myopia, in arguing that when people think of Fullerton, they think of its downtown, just as they do with Pasadena (!). Really? When I think of Pasadena I think of Caltech and JPL, the Huntington Library, stately old neighborhoods with landmark Craftsman homes, Art Center, The Norton Simon Museum that escaped Fullerton…and maybe where to eat downtown.
The Slidebar owner’s Map #8 is such an egregious example of exactly what district maps are not supposed to do—split up neighborhoods within a defined geographical area—that it could, and probably would, be challenged in court, or so warned one of the plaintiffs last Tuesday night. But the map’s obvious inadequacies didn’t sway other speakers—notably Planning Commissioner/Council Candidate Larry Bennett and Grace Ministries International’s Sam Han from rushing to sell out Fullerton’s voters to support the bar owners in their self-serving cause. What was even more surprising was that members of the City Council took it seriously enough to include in their final four maps.
Bar owners in the Restaurant Overlay District who already benefit from city and OCTA subsidized parking, additional police, infrastructural upgrades, and other taxpayer-funded improvements love to host fundraisers for their candidates of choice, many of whom have been subsequently elected to the current City Council The Fullerton City Council has a responsibility to propose a sensible map that serves the whole city. They should listen to downtown residents who want a unified voice about what happens in their region of the city, and not to the narrow interests of bar owners who like to throw parties for them in election season.