The Fullerton City Council will appoint an advisory commission to explore options for drawing new council districts for the 2022 elections, reserving the responsibility for choosing the new districts map exclusively for themselves. Elections law requires that council districts be revisited every ten years following each Federal census. Fullerton and other cities with elections in November 2022, are required to finalize new district lines by April 17, 2022.
Forming a committee to act in a strictly advisory capacity to the Council was one of four options available to the Council during their August 17 meeting. The others were appointing an entirely independent commission that would decide the district boundaries themselves instead of the Council or forming a so-called hybrid committee that would evaluate competing maps and advance two finalists to the Council for a decision, or appointing no committee at all, with the Council overseeing all required public workshops themselves and then choosing a new map.
Fullerton only just adopted district maps for the first time in 2016 in an agreement to settle a lawsuit against the City alleging that its historic use of at-large council seats deprived minority populations of seats on the Council. Council members were first elected by district in 2018.
The Council decision to retain direct control over the final choice of new district lines was made in the early morning hours of a long meeting, following three contentious and extensive housing decisions. City Clerk Lucinda Williams’ presentation about “Redistrict Fullerton” was not heard until after 1:00am as the final item on the agenda. “Most people would have advised that we get this going a month or two ago to get the process started,” she told the Council at 1:15am during the last item on a long council agenda.
After hearing the four choices, a majority of Council members, Jung, Silva, and Dunlap, all immediately voiced support for a purely advisory-only commission even before any members of the public were invited by the mayor to comment. Council member Zahra dissented, saying he favored an independent commission that would avoid a political decision by the Council.
All four public commenters, two of whom identified themselves as members of the People’s Redistricting Alliance, supported an independent commission with the authority to make the final districts map decision. Two objected to the Council hearing such an important matter in early morning hours and suggested rescheduling it to a later date. Planning Commissioner Arnel Dino suggested appointing retired judges as independent commissioners, which prompted Council member Silva to briefly reconsider his earlier stance.
Following public comment, Mayor Whitaker moved to appoint an advisory-only commission, saying that any appointee would bring an agenda to a commission, and that it was better for the Council to hear all voices but be responsible for the final map decision. Silva ultimately voted in the majority to support Whitaker, along with all others except for Zahra, who voted in opposition.
The Council will consider how to populate the commission at a later date, perhaps during a special meeting, in order to adhere to a schedule that projects the first public hearing for Sept. 21.