After years of noisy protests and angry marches, Anaheim residents voted in favor of creating City Council districts, giving a voice to those who contend the resort city has long marginalized people living in its dense urban core.
Anaheim is the largest city in California to cling to at-large voting, and city leaders agreed to put the matter on the ballot only after being sued by residents who maintained that the city was discriminating against those who live in the heavily Latino neighborhoods known as “the flatlands.”
Measure L, which won about 68% of the vote in Tuesday’s election, changes the city’s electoral system so that council members will be chosen by district, ensuring that each section of the city will have a representative. Voters also approved Measure M, which will expand the council to seven members from five.
The next step in changing the system will be the drawing of district boundaries, to be handled by a committee of three retired judges.
“All this time, to not have anyone on the council representing us is a shock — and unacceptable,” said Ada Tamayo, who lives near Pearson Park, not far from the site of a 2012 police shooting that fueled days of protest.
“The lack of representation has been really hard,” said Ricardo Muniz, a Fullerton College student who moved to Anaheim in 1996. “I go around our city, and some parts look better than others: They have better libraries, better community centers, better parks. Why don’t we have that chance to have more quality of life?”
Tamayo is mulling the idea of entering politics herself.
“I’ve volunteered for two years for this campaign, and to have this victory is a thrill,” she said. “People are intimidated running for office, especially in a place like Anaheim where you have 300,000-plus residents and must raise a lot of money to reach everyone.
“With districts, with some 7,000 people, candidates can actually walk door to door and shake hands with everyone. Voters will be able to know who they are electing.”
A 2012 Times analysis found that Anaheim is deeply segregated along ethnic and economic lines and that many of the City’s Council members have lived in the upscale hills area on the city’s east side.
The push for greater representation escalated in 2012, when residents took to the streets after several officer-involved shootings, demanding a bigger voice in hometown decision-making. The anger evolved into a series of town hall forums.
Tamayo, a teacher for 17 years, said she remembers when it took four years to get speed bumps installed in a lower-income neighborhood that was plagued by speeders and accidents.
“When there are issues in our community, it may seem small to those in power, but they’re big problems to us,” she said.
The City Council agreed in January to place Measure L on the ballot to settle a lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and three residents, saying that the at-large election system violated the state’s Voting Rights Act and excluded Latinos, who comprise more than half of Anaheim’s population.