The City Council’s Vote On District Elections
A NEWS COMMENTARY
By Gerald J. Brown --
In voting unanimously for a map creating five councilmanic districts that each contain a portion of the downtown business area, Fullerton City Council members cited the importance of Downtown as a commercial hub and a sort of inspirational font for families. The council members tossed aside the year’s work of their hired demographer, David Ely, who has been meeting for months with community members in an effort to design a voting-district map that will satisfy the requirements of the California Voting Rights Act. It has been designated Map 2B.
You may remember that a year or so ago Fullerton agreed to settle two lawsuits in which the city was accused of violating terms of the CVRA because our “at-large” method of electing City Council members in effect made it nearly impossible for any of our Latino or Korean citizens to get elected.
Two Latinos have served on the Fullerton City Council: Louis Velasquez was elected nearly 50 years ago and served one term, and Sharon Quirk (now Quirk-Silva) served two terms recently. Some say that many voters, seeing her married name (Quirk), did not realize she was Latina.
And then there was Julie Sa, whose ethnic heritage remains a mystery to this day to many in Fullerton. Bringing with her a seemingly unlimited supply of cash, she campaigned vigorously and won two City Council terms before vanishing. Her style of conversation—jumping from one subject to another while introducing irrelevancies—made it difficult to elicit bankable information from her. To some, she said she was Korean. Others claimed that her homeland was China.
But enough of ancient history. In the wake of the settlement of the lawsuit over how Fullerton elects its City Council, a group of downtown businessmen saw an opportunity to cement their relationship with friendly City Council members. The businessmen concocted a voting district map that divides Fullerton into five districts—and each of those districts contains a piece of downtown Fullerton. The rationale for this cartographic hocus-pocus goes something like this: Downtown is more important than any other part of Fullerton because its restaurants, bars and other businesses generate a significant part of Fullerton’s sales tax revenue. Furthermore it is a cultural (e.g., the Museum, family-oriented First Night, Fullerton Plaza events, street market) center as well as the host for a clutch of historic houses of worship. Therefore, the rationale goes, all Council members should be invested in Downtown.
Another way of looking at the situation is that downtown businessmen perceived that the right voting map would provide them the opportunity for more influence with City Council members. It is no secret that monetary contributions to City Council candidates and incumbents usually provide the donor not only with access to the candidates but also an opportunity to offer inducements that are difficult to ignore. It is rare indeed when a candidate turns down a campaign contribution. As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”
This is not a suggestion of venality on the part of any of the five City Council members. But we cannot say how susceptible to temptation future Council members may be.
If Fullerton’s voters approve the “Downtown-Five” district voting plan at the November election, in future elections voters will have to decide not only whether downtown businessmen have improper influence, but whether any Council members and candidates have been improperly influenced.
Giving one group the opportunity to influence all five Council members on every vote seems like a prescription for a “mutual aid” society that Fullerton can do without.
At the June 7 City Council meeting where the “Downtown Five” district voting map was approved there was a diverse group of residents present to champion the map which demographer Ely had presented to the Council after a year’s work of sorting through Census numbers, ethnic population distributions and assorted relevant data. This was known as Map 2B. By voting unanimously for Map 8A, the City Council ignored Ely’s work and in effect said, “Never mind your year’s work of trying to design a voting map that will give every one of Fullerton’s ethnic groups a chance to have a seat at the table. We’re gonna do it our way.”
Map 8A’s designers cite data showing that at least one of its proposed voting districts will have a clear plurality of Latino voting age citizens. That is the same result offered by Map 2B.
But even though the Council rejected Ely’s Map 2B, the city still must pay his $60,000 fee.
Should Downtown be the sole apple of the City Council’s eye? Maybe not.
There is one section of Fullerton that is the seat of the city’s biggest enterprise and that most weeks attracts more people than Downtown draws, even on National Thirst Day.. It is Cal State Fullerton, which with its 35,000 students and maybe another 15,000 teaching-administrative-support staff brings 50,000 people to the city.
If you use the Council’s numbers-oriented rationale, it makes perfect sense that Cal State should be the focus of the Council’s map-drawing efforts.
Let’s have a map that has five voting districts, and each of them has a piece of Cal State.
Will the map maybe look a little weird, with long east-west district segments resembling the hair on a Halloween fright wig? Well, maybe such a map might invite accusations of gerrymandering, but shucks--the downtown businessmen’s Map 8A
has some pretty funny-looking boundary lines too.
Kinda makes you wonder why the Council hired Ely if they weren’t going to use his expertise
Besides Ely’s $60,000 fee, the city has incurred at least two other substantial expenses in its effort to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The Orange County Registrar of Voters will charge Fullerton an estimated $25,000 to put the district-voting measure on the November ballot.
And then there’s the fee to be paid to Kevin Shenkman, Kitty Jaramillo’s attorney who sued Fullerton for violating the CVRA. According to the city’s public information director, Cynthia Santillan, Shenkman and the city’s representatives are still “discussing” the amount” Fullerton will have to pay the lawyer.
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