Orange scheduling community meetings

for district map discussion

June 2019

By Tina Richards

While the City of Orange electorate remains divided on by-district vs. citywide voting for council members, a series of community meetings has been tentatively scheduled to consider district mapping options to comply with the state elections code.

The city is converting to by-district voting, rather than spend thousands of dollars fighting a lawsuit filed by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and Luis Ortiz-Franco. The suit alleges that Orange’s citywide elections stifle the voices of minority voters. Other cities, served with similar lawsuits, have either lost in court or settled to avoid a costly legal battle.

This mapping moment
Two mapping meetings are planned for this month: the first, June 13 at 7 p.m. at Grijalva Park; the second, June 26 at 7 p.m. at Shaffer Park. At that time, a demographer hired by the city will collect public input on potential district boundaries. At the regular monthly council meeting, July 9, the demographer will report on the public feedback received and make districting recommendations.

Draft district maps will be available for public review Aug. 20, with a public hearing following on Aug. 27 to discuss them. The tentative schedule calls for an ordinance to create council districts to be introduced (and likely approved) Sept. 10, with a second reading Oct. 8.

It is not clear how, or if, the districting process will affect the November special election, slated last January to fill a fifth council seat left vacant when then-Councilman Mark Murphy was elected mayor. “We just don’t know yet,” said Murphy. “This whole process is new to us.” In the meantime, July/August remains the target timeline for candidates who wish to compete for that seat to file their paperwork.

When the tentative meeting schedule was presented at the May 13 council meeting, constituents took to the microphone to register their displeasure and their support. Resident Matt Cunningham noted that districting was not being done by voters. “There were no petitions, no requests,” he said. “The council is being forced into it at legal gunpoint. It denies voters a voice in how their government is structured. It’s a profoundly undemocratic demand.” 

Sour grapes?
He suggested that the lawsuit was filed because the plaintiff (Ortiz-Franco) supported Betty Valencia. Valencia came in third in the November election to fill two council seats. She and her supporters lobbied the council unsuccessfully to appoint her to the seat vacated by Murphy. “Her supporters demanded she be appointed,” Cunningham reported, “and when the council chose to hold a special election instead, her leading supporter filed a lawsuit.”

“Districting came along before Betty Valencia ran for council,” Valencia countered. “It’s not about you on the dias, it’s about the system. We do not live in a bubble, this is happening everywhere. Change is inevitable. It’s not about one person, it’s about the city.”

Luis Ortiz-Franco took the suit’s origins back another notch, explaining that the vacancy on the council was created because a city councilman was allowed to run for mayor. “That created a need for a special election,” he said. “But you could have appointed Betty.”  He further recommended that the city legislate that no councilmember can run for mayor until their term is up. 

Think it through
Arianna Barrios, a member of the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees, reported that she had no problem going to districts, but was concerned about “how we get there.”  She noted that the RSCCD board chose to move to district elections, not because of a lawsuit, but to be inclusive, and the districts were drawn only after thoughtful discussion and careful consideration. “Districts drawn along racial lines induce segregation,” she warned. “It’s a problem, and we need to worry about that.”

The five tentatively scheduled meetings are the minimum required by law. If turnout is large, the council may authorize additional meetings to ensure that all interested members of the public have a chance to participate.

“We want this to be meaningful and transparent,” Councilmember Chip Monaco emphasized.  “We’re all going to have to live with the outcome.”