October 2019

By Tina Richards

The boundaries for voting districts within the City of Orange are getting closer to a final determination with the city council’s selection, based on community input and neighborhood feedback, of a single draft map that will be tweaked into a format that most residents can accept.

The map selected by the council at its Sept. 10 meeting was one of 13 submitted by individuals and the city’s demographer Justin Levitt. Those maps were variations of three versions chosen by the council from a field of 22, Aug. 27.

The selected map, 135, is an offshoot of map 122, an August semifinalist.  It came the closest to meeting the parameters identified during the districting process. That is, districts should make geographic sense, keep neighborhoods and communities with common interests together and be more or less equal in population. The goal defined in the lawsuit that initiated the districting, filed by Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and Luis Ortiz-Franco, is to give Latino voters a stronger voice and more representation in city government.  

All for one
At the onset of the public hearing, Councilman Chip Monaco asked the audience to specifically comment on the possible division of Old Towne, noting that its status as a historic district, a destination point and a city crown jewel with unique issues might justify representation by more than one council member. Splitting Old Towne into more than one district would achieve that.

Monaco stressed that he wasn’t advocating, just curious to hear from residents on that subject.

“It is unacceptable to the people of Old Towne to have our historic and special area of interest split up, divided and spread out in multiple districts,” Sandy Quinn, president of the Old Towne Preservation Association, told the council. “If the concept of districting is to keep special areas of interest intact, then Old Towne unquestionably needs to be represented in one district. It has common denominators of historic architecture and period landscaping. It is not only unique as a neighborhood, but includes a very special business district.  Please don’t pull the petals off the rose.”  

Other residents shared the same strong feelings about their communities. Reggie Mundakis, a resident of the Presidential tract, expressed dismay that her neighborhood was divided on many of the draft maps. “The Presidential tract is recognized as a contiguous area,” she said. “It is a community of interest, it is identified as such in real estate listings. It has a history. It should not be split into two districts.”

Keep it together
The Orange Park Acres community also opposed draft maps that divided it. “Five of the maps split OPA,” said Laura Thomas. “We threw them out.”  

“The boundary has to be Santiago Creek,” Theresa Sears asserted. “We have to reject the maps that don’t honor that major geographical divide.”

All of the speakers who addressed the council agreed that keeping communities together was a priority.  And all agreed that no one area should be given more weight than any other. Including Old Towne. “Saying Old Towne is so important that it should be in more than one district implies that other areas don’t have the same importance,” Bonnie Robinson noted. “There are lots of hidden gems in Orange; each area is important; each has unique issues and should have equal representation.”

During the public discussion, it was noted that one draft map divided the Hispanic population into three districts, and another created two districts, each with a 29 percent Latino population. Councilman Mike Alvarez noted that one draft map created a 40 percent Latino district and asked Justin Levitt if that was the most desirable outcome, in terms of what the court expected.

More than numbers
“There is not a bright line threshold,” Levitt said, explaining that the courts don’t look for a specific percentage of a minority population in a given district. “The advice from voter rights attorneys,” he said, “is to consider district alternatives with the highest possible percentage of under-represented voters.  Courts will look at the district you didn’t draw, but could have. And if you didn’t draw that district, you have to have a good reason.”

Districts drawn to respect established communities as requested by residents, Levitt suggested, could be considered a good reason. He assured the council that Map 135, which garnered the most positive feedback, could be adjusted to keep Old Towne, the Presidential tract, and Orange Park Acres intact.  He also noted that moving the boundaries to meet those requirements and keep the population of each district relatively equal would also keep the part of the El Modena barrio that lies within city limits together.  

The amended map will be available for review Oct. 15; the city council will hold a public hearing Oct. 22.  Once the council approves the district boundaries, it will determine which of those districts will be voting in 2020. There will be four council seats up for election. Mike Alvarez will be termed out; the existing vacant seat must be filled, and the creation of six districts adds two council members to the current roster of four. The mayor will continue to be elected by a citywide vote. 

The council-approved boundary configuration, however, must satisfy the lawsuit plaintiffs.  

Orange district boundaries are being  fine-tuned