Last night the Fullerton City Council responded to a court ordered hearing over which district elections map to put before the voters in November by doubling down on their previous terrible choice of Map # 8A. No one who has witnessed any of the council’s actions in the past months could have reasonably expected any other outcome. Even in the face of legal proceedings that specifically cited the fragmenting of the downtown residential areas as being incompatible with the settlement agreement that should be governing their actions, the Fullerton City Council again chose a map presented by a bar owner that privileges the interests of downtown businesses over the rights of the area’s residents to have unified representation on the council.
Following dozens of public speakers on the subject, a motion by Bruce Whitaker to switch to Map # 11 was supported by Greg Sebourn, but failed to attract the support of any of the other three members of the council. Like Map # 8A, Map # 11 would also likely produce a 3 to 2 Republican majority on the council, but that wasn’t enough to attract the support of Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, who has favored Map # 8/8A from the beginning. In the end, both Bruce Whitaker and Greg Sebourn joined Mayor Fitzgerald, Jan Flory, and Doug Chaffee in a unanimous decision to stick with the map they all supported last time, the infamous # 8A, that would split up the downtown residential district five ways.
Stupid or corrupt? There are nicer ways to put it, but why bother being polite to council members who simultaneously thumbed their noses at a judge and stuck their thumbs in the eyes of multiple residents who pointed out that fragmenting the downtown residential area would deny representation to a community of interest. The council based their decision on a legal interpretation by attorney Kimberly Barlow of law firm Jones and Mayer, who represented Fullerton at the July 20 court hearing. Despite the fact that the text of the court’s Minute Order, which summarized the proceedings, clearly shows that Judge James Crandall found “some merit” in the plaintiff’s second argument, that Map # 8A “inappropriately splits the downtown region into multiple districts, thus violating community interest principles” inherent to the Voting Rights Act and the election code governing its application, Ms. Barlow argued that the judge would ultimately allow the map to pass muster.
The relevant paragraphs from the document are reproduced below, with added boldface for emphasis:
‘The court finds that plaintiff’s second argument has some merit, however. According to Article 21, section 2 of the California Constitution, a community of interest “is a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Examples of such shared interests are those common to an urban area, a rural area, an industrial area, or an agricultural area, and those common to areas in which the people share similar living standards, use the same transportation facilities, have similar work opportunities, or have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process.” Id. at subd.(d)(4). It is unclear how the division of the downtown area of the city gives appropriate consideration to this principle. If anything, division of the downtown area among the five districts in Map 8A does not honor the contiguity of the population living there, and their shared interests in that area. While supporters of Map 8 and Map 8A at the Council meetings expressed the idea that all Fullerton residents should have an interest in the downtown area, it is unclear how many of these supporters actually reside in the downtown area, as opposed to simply owning businesses there…’
‘The City contends that Section 21601’s factors are permissive, and not mandatory. While this might ordinarily be true, the parties’ Settlement Agreement requires that the electoral district map be drawn in accordance with those criteria. Map 8A would seem to run afoul of at least one of those factors, in addition to being adopted through a process completely antithetical to that contemplated by the Agreement.’
Let’s read that last line again…
“…completely antithetical to that contemplated by the Agreement”! (!!!!!!)*
And yet, the council chose to listen to their own lawyer tell them what they wanted to hear, that the court record was somehow not accurate, and that she herself was confident that the judge would allow Map # 8A to be placed on the ballot in November. Indeed, Ms. Barlow was so confident in her interpretation of the proceeding that the Minute Order document wasn’t even included in the staff report to the council members in the meeting’s agenda! We have to wonder if the council even considered the consequences of Ms. Barlow being wrong. The court is scheduled to take up the matter again during a Status Conference on August 8th, and all indications are that the judge expects to see a new map.
Even the OC Register got it right last week, reporting on the July 20 hearing: “Fullerton told to find new map for district election ballot measure.”
If the old map isn’t good enough for the judge, as it wasn’t on July 20, the council will have a scant three days to choose another map to put on the ballot for the November election. Despite the well-organized opposition to it, more than one member of the council has counterintuitively argued that Map # 8A has the best chance of voter approval with the district elections measure at the ballot box. Not a single member of the Fullerton City Council favors district-based elections anyway, so I would expect them to do exactly nothing more to try to fix this mess. We’ll just have to wait for the lawyer bills to find out how much the council’s intransigence will cost the taxpayers.