The Anaheim City Council on Wednesday night voted down a historic ballot proposal that would have created voting districts to help increase Latino representation in a community that has been riven by two recent fatal police shootings.
The proposal, supported by Disneyland Resort and many of the hundreds of people who packed the special council meeting, was killed on a 3-2 vote following several hours of emotional testimony.
Mayor Tom Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway supported the measure. “There is no reason to waste time,” Galloway said. “Let the people vote.”
Council members Kris Murray, Gail Eastman and Harry Sidhu cast the dissenting votes for the majority. “I strongly believe we should take the time and do it right,” Murray said to boos from the audience.
Council members opted instead to establish a citizens advisory committee on elections and community involvement. The move angered dozens in the audience, who began chanting, “We’ll be back. We’ll be back,” as they left the auditorium at Anaheim High School.
The council vote came in the wake of a series of heated protests over the deadly police shootings last month of two Latino men. The demonstrations rocked the city and laid bare the wide gulf between Anaheim’s pockets of glitz and affluence and its less-prosperous Latino neighborhoods, where residents have voiced outrage about police conduct.
The effort to switch to district-by-district voting received an influential boost when Disneyland Resort, the city’s largest employer, weighed in to back the proposal. The entertainment giant rarely involves itself in local politics.
In a letter to Anaheim’s top officials, resort President George Kalogridis said that district elections would result in a City Council that more closely mirrors the community.
“We believe that city leadership should reflect the diversity of its entire population,” Kalogridis said in his letter to the mayor and council members. “We support a City Council elected from districts and encourage the city of Anaheim to move from at-large elections to district voting. This shift will allow each valued neighborhood to be represented by a local council member of their choosing.”
Anaheim is the largest city in California that has at-large voting. The mayor and four council members are elected by residents across the city. The ballot proposal would have also expanded the size of the council so that the mayor is elected citywide and six council members are elected from separate districts.
Critics say the current voting system tips the scale in favor of the wealthier hillside neighborhoods, where there is a strong white majority. About 52% of the city’s 336,000 residents are Latino, but few have ever won council seats.
One of those Latinos elected was Richard Chavez, who came to Wednesday’s meeting to support the ballot proposal. He said only three Latinos have been elected to the council, a number he described as “horrific.”
Chavez, 57, a retired firefighter who served on the City Council from 2002 to 2006, said Latinos in Anaheim have been marginalized for years, which has helped to breed fear and hostility among young people in the community.
“These children are growing up, and they are angry,” he said.
Genevieve Huizar, the mother of Manuel Angel Diaz, who was killed by officers on July 21, told the council: “It’s time to make a change in Anaheim.
“I want young children to have hope, have peace, for all of us to have justice,” said Huizar as tears rolled down her cheeks.
She was interrupted as a man stood in the front row. “You’re a horrible mother,” he said, along with a string of expletives.
Others in the audience stood and shouted at the man as he stormed out of the auditorium. People rushed to comfort Huizar as she walked out.
For Al Jabbar and others, having district-by-district voting was a matter of fairness.
“When we have districts, each and every corner of Anaheim is going to be represented,” said Jabbar, 34, who lives in the west end of the city. “Let’s have the districts and move on.”
Kandee Beas grew frustrated as she listened to one speaker after another criticize the city she chose to retire in three years ago.
“If you listen to these people, it sounds like it’s all bad. That’s not the truth,” said Beas, 56, as she knitted a pink dishcloth. “I feel sad for my city.”
After the meeting, Tait said that the independence of the committee could be questioned because its members will be appointed by the City Council.
“The best people to ask how they will be governed are the people themselves,” he said. “I don’t think we need a committee to tell us that answer.”
Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.