Sirloin or Dog Food? Council prepares to foist Santa Ana-style faux-districting on Anaheim tonight.


Anaheim’s Corporatist Council Majority.  From top left clockwise:
Kris Murray, Lucille Kring, Gail Eastman, Jordan Brandman.
(hat-tip to young Jayson Acevedo for noting the Kring-Incredibles resemblance!)

Okay. So. This evening’s Anaheim Council meeting is supposed to be the one where the Council discusses, and possibly decides, what to do next on the issue of district elections.  With their Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) having given its final recommendation recently, and with the Court’s July 9 deadline for dealing with the issue approaching, they will probably decide to put the question of district elections onto the June 2014 primary ballot.  However, rather than giving the public the option for true district elections, it’s suspected that the stridently anti-democracy four-member majority will instead attempt to placate and confuse much of the public with:

Santa Ana-Style Faux Districts

And what do we mean by “Santa Ana-Style Faux Districts?”

To back up a bit, people have been pushing for the reform of “district elections” in Anaheim for decades, for at least three interconnected reasons:  The difficulty of running at-large in such a large city (the largest city in California that is NOT broken up into districts) has caused:

  • an underrepresentation of minorities, particularly of Latinos, who comprise 51% of the town’s population but have rarely got onto the Council;
  • an overrepresentation of Councilpeople from a couple of wealthy and/or well-connected neighborhoods – the Hills and the Colony – at the expense of the vast working-class flatlands;
  • and MOST IMPORTANTLY to many of us, the impossibility of winning without kissing the ass of the city’s most powerful and wealthy interests:  Disney, developers, hotels, and the Police Union.

Dividing the town into districts (with a Mayor elected at large) – where a candidate ONLY HAD TO RUN within his own district – would make it MUCH easier for a regular person to run without being financed and bought off by those special interests.  There would be folks on the council in touch with the needs of their own areas;  it’s much more likely that Latinos and other minorities would have a chance;  and most importantly the expense of running would come down from an average of $200,000 to $25-35 K (depending on if it’s six or eight districts) – and even with NO money, it would be possible for a dedicated candidate to knock on all the doors in their district and get to meet most of the voters.

Now, Santa Ana, the County’s 2nd-biggest (and notoriously ill-run) city, enjoys a truly half-assed system, which some call “hybrid” or “at-large districts” – basically a candidate must RESIDE in the district – one councilperson is elected from each district – but they have to RUN in, and be elected by, the whole city.  So there’s no decrease in the expense of running, and high-voting areas get to choose who “represents” all the other districts.  It’s said that in this last Santa Ana council election, at least two candidates were elected by the whole town while losing the vote in their own district.  Yes, rejected by their own neighbors who know them best, but foisted on them anyway by the big money in Floral Park or wherever.

And THIS is the system (word on the street has it) that the Council majority will now try to foist on Anaheim – one that will still allow the town’s big money to pick the whole Council, and let the Hills and the Colony pick who “represents” the flatlands.  They will still call this “districting,” and demand our gratitude, but they will be giving us dog food and telling us it’s sirloin steak.  (As depicted to the right.)

The Best-Laid Plans:
What went “wrong” with the Citizens Advisory Committee?

LOL.  Truly interesting, what happened with the CAC.  What, to all appearances, was a delaying tactic by the Council majority to prevent or postpone districting as long as possible, stacked with anti-districting appointees, eventually came back with a majority recommendation that we districting advocates celebrate:  9-to-1 for putting the question of districting on the ballot; and divided on whether the council should have SIX or EIGHT members (five votes for six, four votes for eight, old Vic Real undecided.)  Now us reformers are applauding the CAC, while the anti-reformers who created it are stomping up and down and crying foul – a most entertaining sight!

What “went wrong” with this best-laid plan?  Two of the anti-reformers’ appointees went rogue, in different ways.  First, distinguished old West Anaheim businessman Vic Real, a Harry Sidhu appointee, paid very close attention to all the presentations, and with great difficulty decided that districting was best for Anaheim after all.  The corporatist blogosphere began to call him a traitor and a “weak sister,” and who knows how much pressure and grief he went through in the two weeks between his decision and the final vote?  (He blew up at ME when I tried to thank and interview him.)

Those two weeks were apparently when the anti-reformers, ably shilled for by their useful paid propagandist Matt Cunningham, gave up on defending the status quo, and fell in love with Santa Ana-style faux districts, realizing that even though it would be a LITTLE more work stacking the Council under that system, they could still do it.  So when the CAC came back for the final vote, the anti-reform contingent, now having reclaimed Vic, attempted to shoehorn this option into the recommendation at the last minute.

But this time they were stymied by the loose cannon Keith Oleson, a Kris Murray appointee.  Having got the post as a strong opponent of districts in general, believing them to be divisive and leading inevitably to corrupt, competing fiefdoms, he seemed to see how Santa Ana-style districts was the WORST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS, adding the need for big money onto those putative faults.  (At least, we THINK that was his thinking – we can only speculate as he’s cut off ties with his oled friends.)

So once again the anti-reformers howled like stuck pigs – stabbed in the back first by Vic, then by Keith! – and the final recommendation does NOT include the Santa Ana option, despite the acrobatic spinning of Cunningham.

What the Mayor Intends to do Tonight

Mayor Tom Tait, the Council’s token human being, finds it delightful that the recommendation of the CAC is essentially the same as what he proposed last August – letting the people decide between the status quo or “six councilmembers elected by districts to be drawn by a non-partisan panel of retired judges.”  Delightful, because this CAC was created by his enemies as a bulwark AGAINST what he was trying to do. Also, many think it’ll actually have a better chance PASSING next year than it would have last November.

Tait, at typical Council meeting.

So the Mayor’s intention is to keep things simple – he will propose putting on the ballot exactly what the CAC recommended.  Specifically six districts, as that got one more vote on the CAC than eight districts.

I said, why not have TWO questions – first, voters would choose between the status quo and districts;  THEN, they could choose between six and eight.  The Mayor has no preference between six and eight;  he prefers to keep the ballot question simple and based on the majority CAC recommendations;  and he says it could easily be changed from six to eight in the near future if citizens want that.

If past is any prologue, ANYTHING the long-suffering Mayor proposes will die for lack of a second anyway, while we citizens applaud his lonesome courage from the peanut gallery and Anaheim’s living rooms.  (See dramatization to right.)

Obviously a good way to squash any reform at the ballot box is to confuse the voters with too many options – a tried and true method which I expected the Council majority to use.  BUT, instead, word from our moles on the 7th floor, as well as noise from the Jerbal, indicates that they are going to push enthusiastically for the dog food, or Santa Ana option…

How Kris Murray et al. will sell the Dog Food…

Remember that Murray, Brandman, Eastman, and now Kring, are Disney puppets – Pringle puppets – and as such, they are well-equipped to sell you ANYTHING with a smile on their faces.  Tonight they will try to convince you that the Santa Ana option, which they’ll call a “hybrid” or “at-large district elections” *OXYMORON ALERT*, is:

  • a beautiful and reasonable COMPROMISE between folks who want districting and those who don’t;
  • something that will help hold the whole city together – and who don’t like TOGETHERNESS?
  • most democratic, because YOU lucky Colony resident will get to vote for a BUNCH of councilpeople, not just your own – choosing West Anaheim’s representative, the Hills’ representative, etc… AND
  • that it’ll settle the ACLU lawsuit, so that they don’t have to keep wasting hundreds of thousands of your money fighting it!

REALLY??  Would Santa Ana-style “districting” satisfy the Court?

It really SHOULDN’T, as it will still be virtually impossible for the average Anaheimer – Latino or otherwise – to have a fighting chance at getting on the Council without swearing fealty to Disney.  But there are pessimistic insider voices who think it COULD satisfy the Judge.  This is one weakness of basing the lawsuit on the CVRA’s racial language – a reform that makes it necessary for Disney to buy a Mexican councilman in a Mexican district COULD be considered sufficient by the Court.

COULD.  We’ll see on July 9, which is when Judge Franz Miller will next be checking on the City’s progress satisfying the CVRA. He sounded pretty severe last time, telling them they’d better come back with a very serious plan…

A theory to give us all pause…

Here’s something I’ve heard theorized a lot, over on this side of the debate:  There’s reason to believe that the folks behind this fight against districting – your Pringle, your Council Majority – would prefer to appeal this case all the way to the California Supreme Court, with the ultimate goal of overturning the California Voting Rights Act – or at least to affirm charter city sovereignty from state civil rights laws (a cause celebre on parts of the extreme right.)

We’ll have more soon about why we think that’s what they’re up to, but for now I have to say that if Jordan Brandman is knowingly part of a project to eviscerate California’s Voting Rights Act, then there are a lot of Democrats who should be proud as punch of helping him get to his current perch. *major snark*  That’s  Loretta Sanchez.  That’s Lou Correa and Jose Solorio.  That’s his very enthusiastic campaign manager Melahat Raifei.  That’s the Democratic Party of OC itself.

And if Gail Eastman is also part of destroying the CVRA, then I hope Lou Correa is proud of helping her get into office with his ringing endorsement of her back in 2010.

We are probably going to end up needing a citizens’ initiative drive
to get real districting on the ballot for June 2014…

Sometimes we people are just on our own.  But we really ARE a Rebel Alliance – stretching from … (to be continued)

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.