When Slidebar owner Jeremy Popoff presented his ridiculous district elections map to the Fullerton City Council on May 17, Planning Commissioner and city council candidate Larry Bennett was there to support him over downtown area residents. As we saw in our previous post, Popoff’s gerrymandered Map # 8 would split downtown five different ways, relegating each strand of it to little more than an afterthought within their respective districts. Not caring much about a large part of the city’s residents, Mr. Bennett was ready and willing to side with the bar owners, who already enjoy the benefits of subsidized parking, redevelopment improvements, and taxpayer-funded extra policing.
During the public hearing over which maps to consider adopting for the planned November district elections ballot measure, Mr. Bennett first made clear that he was “not wild about going to district elections.” He went on to tell the City Council that he was afraid that, in essence, districts would “give us one vote, instead of five votes,” following a standard line of argument against the adoption of the new system to be put before the voters in November. However, after acknowledging that California’s Voting Rights Act is steering cities into adopting district-based elections, he stated a preference for a set of districts that “respects our historical sort of boundaries.” He then cited Harbor Blvd. as the “right place for the districts to come together,” even though such a plan would bisect the downtown residential district in the middle of the city, sacrificing its historic status as the original townsite area of Fullerton while ignoring both the geographical and socioeconomic commonalities shared by its residents, all for a convenient line on a map, and all without offering a single reason to back up his opinion.Referring to comments earlier that evening about the disenfranchising effect dividing downtown into different districts would have, Mr. Bennett preferred to cling to the illogical notion that somehow dividing the whole area up into five relatively insignificant portions of larger districts would give the area “more representation.” Mr. Bennett, or course, doesn’t live anywhere near the downtown neighborhoods, preferring a comfy home far away up in the hills.
Asserting that the professional demographer hired by the city to conduct the months-long process to develop a map didn’t know Fullerton “like we know Fullerton,” Larry Bennett then hilariously called Map # 8 “an easily understood map,” even though its district boundaries are easily the most convoluted and eccentrically shaped of any submitted. Is it only fealty to a bunch of downtown bars that leads a man to blithely state the opposite of what is sensible with no evidence to back up his baseless claims? Or is it the fact that Map # 8 has a 3 to 2 Republican majority in the way its districts are drawn, unlike Maps # 2B and 10?
Appearing to read from notes, he repeated talking points about the Pasadena experience, where that city’s downtown was split up into several oddly shaped districts. What he didn’t mention was that it was done over the objections of the Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association, who were dead set against the idea. It seems that the residents of Pasadena’s downtown area also understood the disenfranchising effect fragmenting their historic district would have on its residents.Mr. Bennett thinks that our downtown and Pasadena’s are “very similar,” and that “we” would “benefit from following that model as well.” Who would benefit? Not the downtown residents of Fullerton, who would have their district split up five ways, diluting their collective influence over their own region of the city. This last point is critical, because it isn’t just the downtown bars that affect the area’s residents, it’s also the recent high density development projects. By splitting up the most attractive areas for developers into five different districts, any collective voice of the residents most affected by the seemingly endless proposals for multistory apartments along major corridors like Harbor Blvd., Commonwealth, etc. would be lost. Make no mistake, the bar owners’ Map # 8 is a dream for developers, and developers and their advocates contribute to Larry Bennett’s campaigns.
His 2014 campaign filings show contributions from the Waterford Group, The Building Industry Association, the Engineering Contractors Association, Pacific Coast Homes (Chevron)’s Jim Pugliese, and others. Oh, and $ 1,000.00 each from downtown “restaurants” Heroes and Roscoes. Jennifer Fitzgerald’s appointed Planning Commissioner Larry Bennett seems to have no shame in advocating for a map with contorted district boundaries that favor bars and developers over residents, and preserves a Republican majority on the council. Voters should remember where his loyalties are during the November city council elections.