Santa Ana Reprises Ward Election Issue With All Its Past Furor
The last time Santa Ana residents voted on whether to change the way the City Council is elected, accusations of racism made for a heated campaign.
Nothing has changed.
In June, a proposal for ward elections and a directly elected mayor was defeated by only 257 votes.
That proposition is back, in the form of Measure H on Tuesday’s ballot, along with an alternative, Measure G, put on the ballot by the City Council. If both are approved Tuesday, the one that gets the most votes will be the winner.
Measure H calls for election of council members by ward and a directly elected mayor who would vote in council matters only to break a tie. Measure G would have a directly elected mayor, as well, but he would be a full voting participant on the council. Council members would be elected citywide, but the number of districts would be cut from seven to six.
Backers of Measure H, led by members of the citizens group known as Santa Ana Merged Society of Neighbors, say they lost out the first time only because of what they say was a racist mailer put out by opponents shortly before the June election. The mailer, financed by a committee of local residents and the Chamber of Commerce, said the proposal was backed by forces from “outside” the city, including immigrants’ rights activist Nativo Lopez, who would “turn Santa Ana into a slum.”
SAMSON members said the mailer was designed to scare whites into thinking that the proposal was backed exclusively by illegal aliens. The proposition, argued spokesman Jim Lowman, had nothing do with code enforcement and occupancy standards, issues on which Lopez has fought the City Council.
SAMSON, in a mailer sent out Wednesday, made accusations similar to the ones made against the group’s initiative last June. The mailer charges that Measure G is backed by “forces from outside the city” and would turn Santa Ana into a slum. In addition, it warns of “illegal aliens flooding your neighborhood.”
“First of all, as far as this piece is concerned, I think it’s an irresponsible and unscrupulous piece of mail,” said Mike Metzler, a member of Santa Ana Neighbors for Excellence, a group opposed to Measure H. “What’s truly ironic is that this is the group that fabricated the racist charge in June that did not exist.”
Metzler, who headed the opposition to the June initiative, Measure C, said the earlier mailer never mentioned illegal aliens and wasn’t intended to spark racist reactions.
Lowman said the mailer does not imply that Measure G would prompt a flood of illegal aliens. Instead, he said, the concept is that the city already faces that situation and ward elections would make council members more responsive to the problem.
Lopez admitted that his participation in SAMSON is frequently difficult because of some other members’ sentiments against illegal aliens. “I don’t like it. I wasn’t privy to it,” he said of the mailer. “I don’t believe in fighting racism with racism.”
However, Lopez, who stressed that he has never endorsed severe overcrowding but rather wants to prevent evictions of nuclear families, said he would continue to work for passage of Measure H. “It’s unfortunate that some of our friends would stoop to those tactics,” he said.
Here’s a short description of the two options:
Measure G would provide for direct election every two years of the mayor, who would be a voting council member. Council members, who would continue to serve four-year terms, would be elected in a citywide vote.
Because the mayor would not represent a ward but would vote on the council, the measure includes a provision to reduce the number of wards from seven to six, thereby maintaining an odd number of votes. The redistricting would be done, according to the text of the measure, to provide for wards fairly equal in population and “composed of contiguous and compact territory.”
Call for Reconsideration
Measure H would provide for direct election every two years of the mayor, who would have a vote in council matters only in case of a tie and would be allowed to call for a reconsideration of any action.
Council members would be elected by the voters in their individual wards (they currently must live in wards but are elected in a citywide vote). If the measure is passed, the first election under the new system would be in November, 1988.
Members of SANE argue that ward elections would divide the city into seven separate communities and that council members would be concerned only about issues affecting their own areas. Said chairwoman Sara Broadbent in her ballot statement: “Measure H allows a council majority to dump unpopular projects like a rock concert facility, jail, toxic chemical plant or rescue mission in one ward.”
In addition, she said, a mayor with a veto has too much power. “We are not prepared to trade away (six) votes in exchange for one vote for the mayor.”
Lowman called the arguments “asinine” and said he believes that council members still will have concern for the entire city. “The opposition is talking about putting a toxic waste dump in your ward. You can’t put a toxic waste dump in California, much less Santa Ana,” he said.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Vice Mayor P. Lee Johnson, who said he plans to vote against both proposals. He cited the Board of Supervisors as an example of how a ward system works, noting that only Ralph B. Clark, whose area includes Anaheim, voted against putting a county jail in that city. “If you think it’s so successful,” he added, “take a look at L.A. They can’t even agree what day it is.”
Miguel Pulido, a council candidate who supports H and opposes G, said he does not believe council members will be concerned only about issues affecting their individual wards and added his belief that the courts will order a ward system eventually.