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The City of Anaheim has settled its case with the ACLU over districting — and as a result will pay the ACLU what many expect to be upwards of a million dollars in attorney fees. (Vern’s handling that aspect of the story tomorrow morning.) I’ll be doing a piece on what Anaheim’s districts might look like — maybe not like what you think — but for now let’s just take a look around at what people have been saying and sharing tonight.
But first things first:
First, a press conference will be held tomorrow in front of Anaheim City Hall at 11 a.m. It says “press conference,” not “rally.” Well, I’m disregarding that and I suggest that others do as well. It’s a time to celebrate the end of the long and pointless battle against the ability of minorities in Anaheim to choose their own local representatives to City Council. Lots of people want to give speeches, but I think that the mood is likely to be a lot more celebratory than merely serious. The serious part is that this will lead to an immediate transition to … the campaign for Yes on Districts!
Now clearly I’ve gotten ahead of myself. For those of you who don’t yet know the basics, Jason Young has Tom Tait’s speech – including an audio version that you can go to his site to hear:
Today is an important day for Anaheim—this council has agreed to settle the voting rights lawsuit against the city, clearing the way for a public vote on the matter. It is the right thing to do but frankly, I am disappointed that it took us so long to get here.
For those who do not understand why we were sued or why this issue requires a public vote, let me provide a little background.
The Anaheim City Charter—think of it as the city’s constitution—was adopted in 1965. In addressing the issue of elections, the charter called for an at-large voting system. In other words, each councilmember runs for election citywide and every voter gets to vote on every candidate. Under this system, councilmembers must campaign and seek votes from the entire geographic area of the city, roughly 20 miles from east to west.
In their claim against the city, the plaintiffs asserted that the city’s at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act, a law that was passed in 2002. They argue that, under the law, Anaheim councilmembers are required to be elected by individual districts. That is, the city should be partitioned into districts and only voters in that district can vote for the candidate running in that specific area. The candidates are also required to live in the district in which they are running. This electoral system is called district-based voting. It is the system used by the vast majority of large cities, including all of the 10 largest cities in our state, except our city.
Anaheim is not the first city in the state to be sued under the California Voting Rights Act. We knew that and we knew how other cities in the same position we were in had fared with the courts. This is why I have been arguing that the city should settle the lawsuit and allow the people to vote. We would have saved over a million dollars and lots of time. But unfortunately the majority on the council did not agree with my perspective and we spent perhaps $2 million taxpayer dollars fighting a losing case.
My support for this settlement is not about whether or not I prefer district elections. It’s no secret that I do and others on this council do not. But my major issue with this lawsuit and the council’s handling of it comes down to my knowledge of the law and my commitment to the democratic process.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we at this dais think about district elections. Our electoral system cannot be changed by this or any city council. Because our system of voting is authorized in the city charter, it must be decided by the people through a charter amendment vote at the ballot box.
This settlement finally allows the people of Anaheim the opportunity to exercise their right to vote on how they want to be governed. That question is a most fundamental one and should be decided by the people. If the voters decide that they want to continue to be represented by leaders elected at an at-large basis, then that is what will happen. But if the voters decide that they want to be represented by leaders elected in individual districts, then that is what will happen. It’s the beauty of America and it is something that we should be celebrating, not fighting.
So today, with this settlement, we move forward with letting the people decide. And that is all that I have sought from the beginning…certainly since I made the motion in August 2012 to put this issue on the November 2012 ballot.
Although I am pleased that this settlement is finally here, because it is the right thing to do, I will say that I am frustrated and disappointed that it has taken so long to do the right thing—allow the people to vote.
As we announce this settlement, I’m sure that the public will likely have a few questions of this council, including:
Why does letting people vote makes sense now and somehow didn’t make sense in August of 2012 before the city spent perhaps $2 million in combined legal fees?
Also, why didn’t the council move to settle this case several months ago when the Citizens Advisory Commission unanimously advised that the question of district elections should be put before the voters? Why did they ignore the commissions’s recommendations?
And finally, I imagine that the people will want to know why the council delayed allowing the people to vote on district-based elections when the council was presented with credible concerns that the city was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. These are all good questions to ask.
In any event, I am pleased that we are moving forward. I want to thank my colleagues who voted to finally settle this costly litigation. It was the right thing to do.
In closing, I look forward to putting this issue on the ballot for the people to decide and moving forward to work cooperatively on job creation, on public safety and on all parts of city to ensure that Anaheim continues to offer an unrivaled qualify of life for all its residents.
I disagree with the Mayor on one important point up there — and that disagreement is NOT over the huge waste of taxpayer money than any of the three women on the Council could have prevented (and that the Murrbot seemed to be frying her circuits in an attempt to justify) — but let’s leave that story to Vern and that disagreement for another day.
The City put out its own statement as well, which may be found below:
ANAHEIM, CA – (January 7, 2014) – The City of Anaheim tonight announced approval of a settlement agreement in the case Moreno v. Anaheim, which involves a challenge to the City’s method of electing City Council members under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). According to Anaheim City Attorney Michael R.W. Houston, “the settlement will result in a full dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims and allows the City to resolve this litigation through voter consideration of a Charter amendment to change the City’s method of electing City Council members, not through court-ordered mandates and judicial oversight of the City’s electoral system.” Upon implementation of key settlement terms, the plaintiffs must dismiss their claims against the City and are barred from bringing any further challenge to the City’s electoral system based on the facts raised in their lawsuit. “By settling this matter and obtaining dismissal, the City will stop incurring costs from further litigation,” said Houston.
As part of this settlement, the plaintiffs have agreed that entering this settlement is not an admission by the City in any way that the City’s current method of electing City Council members violates the CVRA or that the CVRA is applicable to the City.
The Settlement Agreement requires the City Council to place on its agenda for action at an upcoming open session prior to February 7 a resolution calling an election in November 2014 for voters to decide on changing the City Charter’s current method of electing City Council members from an at-large electoral system to a single member district system. The Mayor would continue to be elected at-large. Further, the Settlement Agreement provides that the election to consider a proposed Charter amendment to increase the City Council’s size from four to six members be moved from June 2014 to the November 2014 election. Should the voters approve either of these Charter amendments, the measures will be used in the 2016 municipal election and thereafter.
The single member district model would require future Council Members to be residents of, and elected by the residents of, their respective districts. If single member districts are approved by the voters, then the City Council will create and appoint an advisory committee to make recommendations to the City Council for the creation of single member districts.
If the single member district model is not approved by the voters, the residency district model previously adopted by City Council ordinance could then be implemented for use in the 2016 municipal elections. The Settlement Agreement provides that the residency ordinance (previously adopted on July 23, 2013) would be suspended until after the 2014 elections. Residency districts would require that future Council Members reside within a specified district, but be voted upon citywide.
The Anaheim v. Moreno case was filed on June 28, 2012. Plaintiffs expressed their position in both letters to the City and court papers that resolution required a court order because plaintiffs previously stated that voter action was not appropriate or necessary to change the City’s electoral system. Anaheim is a Charter City, with its Charter being adopted by the voters in 1965, and disputed plaintiffs’ position. The at-large voting system currently utilized was adopted by voters as part of the 1965 Charter. During litigation, the City’s position in court papers was that any change to the City’s method of electing City Council members should be resolved through the legislative process and approved by the voters, not a court. The settlement agreement approved tonight allows the voters to consider changing the City’s electoral system.
For more information and for a copy of the Settlement Agreement, please visit www.anaheim.net/settlement.
So it’s going to be a fight at the ballot box — one that (as noted in the Settlement Agreement) the members of the City Council on the “anti” side have agreed to sit out. (Curt Pringle, Disney, SOAR, the Angels, and the Chamber of Commerce, though, aren’t bound by the agreement.) This seems to be the main image that the (clearly well-prepared) districting advocates have already put out:
Clean, crisp, and clear — and likely to wear well. Candidates will be expected to take a position on it — and the better ones will be carrying this sign.
I do have a problem with the settlement (not that I think I could necessarily do any better): how much money will be spent leading up to November to try to justify an at-large system. (If there is any justice in the world, Kris Murray will be asked, everywhere she goes, to explain why “from-districts” are OK but “by-districts” aren’t. Surely there is no better way possible for her to connect with the common people.)
Because the vote didn’t go ahead in November 2012, like it should have, implementation of districting will have had to wait an extra two years — barring something unexpected. That’s pretty much the main victory that the Pringle Ring seemed to want, and they got it. Maybe they just won’t see any point in going against “real districts” anymore. Or maybe that poll that’s been going around — yes, sponsors, it did reach some friends of mine! — taught the lesson that the public wanted districts and didn’t much like people that stood in the way. So the presence of a counter-campaign is not really a given.
Of course, there’s another big reason why even opponents of real districting may not bother to oppose this proposal once it hits the ballot — and it’s one close to my heart. But that part of the story again will best wait for another day.