A sharply divided Anaheim City Council on Tuesday night voted to change the way its members are elected.
Proponents say the new at-large voting proposal with residency requirements will ensure that the city’s diverse population is well-represented. But many who called for reforms contend that the plan falls short of moving toward fair representation for Latinos in city government.
Lack of representation was a focus of protests that rocked the city last year following the officer-involved shooting of two Latino men.
Political representation is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Latino residents. The suit alleges that the practice of electing council members at large violates the California Voting Rights Act.
Latinos make up nearly 53% of the city’s population but less than half of eligible voters. Only a few Latinos have ever been elected to the City Council. The city was incorporated in 1876.
Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects leaders at large.
The measure approved in a 3-2 vote Tuesday followed months of study and debate. It maintains at-large voting but imposes residency requirements.
The council also decided to ask voters to permanently ratify the at-large measure and to decide whether to expand the number of council members from four to six, with the mayor elected at large. A measure that would have asked voters to decide whether the city should move toward a voting district system in which each district elects its own members was defeated 2 to 3.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who has advocated for voting districts, said the at-large change “confuses the issue.”
“I’m very disappointed to see this will be on the ballot,” he said.
Councilwoman Kris Murray, who proposed the successful measure, said voting districts would divide the city.
Murray lives in affluent Anaheim Hills, but added that she takes being an at large representative seriously. She said she focuses much of her attention beyond her own neighborhood, including the area known in Anaheim as the flatlands.
She noted work she has done in the Ponderosa area of Anaheim, in particular. During budget talks, she advocated an infusion of funds to improve and build parks and community spaces in those areas, and has worked with a computer company to build a computer lab for community use.
“I don’t believe we are six or eight Anaheims; I believe we are one city,” she said. “I don’t represent Anaheim Hills. I represent the city of Anaheim.”
Murray and Councilwomen Lucille Kring and Gail Eastman voted in favor of the at-large measure. Mayor Tait and Councilman Jordan Brandman opposed.