District 3 Incumbent off Council for 2 years
At a special Fullerton City Council Meeting on March 29, Council voted 3 to 2 to approve, with Councilmembers Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra “on principle,” voting to oppose the new City Council voting Districts described by Map 114.
The districts will be effective for the November 8 election when Districts 3 and 5 will be on the ballot, but the current District 3 (D3) representative, Silva, will not be eligible to run in D2, the district in which the new boundaries place his residence along with the current D2 representative Nick Dunlap. Silva can run in his new district in 2024, two years after his current term has expired, when D1, D2, and D4 will be on the ballot.
After Councilmember Dunlap moved and Mayor Pro Tem Whitaker seconded approval of Map 114, Silva made a substitute motion to move Map 114 and bring D2 into the current election cycle for him to “have a chance to stay on [Council].” City Attorney Kim Barlow clarified that, regardless, Dunlap would be able to complete his term through 2024. Because California Elections Code Section 21606(b) specifies that councilmembers be elected with “the same district number as a district whose incumbent’s term is due to expire,” demographer Dr. Justin Levitt, who was hired to facilitate the redistricting process for Fullerton, explained that district numbers would have to be swapped to facilitate Silva’s request.
Renumbering D2 to D3 and vice versa would put D2 on the ballot in place of D3 in 2022 and precipitate the following: First, it would allow Silva to run in his new district in the year his term expires in his old district. Second, it would create an opportunity for the current D2 councilperson, Nick Dunlap, to run in D2 renumbered as D3 midway through his term and if he lost or simply chose not to run, to continue his term in D2 through 2024. Third, constituents in D3 renumbered to D2, including CSUF students living on campus or renting nearby, Hispanic renters in the Gem Neighborhood, and other residents in the northeast portion of the City, would wait an additional two years to elect a representative on the Council unless Dunlap ran and won D2, renamed as D3, in 2022, causing him to vacate his seat, and the Council were to choose to hold a special election rather than appoint a replacement for him.
Silva was unable to gain a second for his substitute motion. No other Councilmembers would be similarly impacted by the district boundary changes in Map 114. Zahra can run for reelection in his district, D5, this year and Mayor Fred Jung, Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Whitaker, and Councilmember Nick Dunlap can each run for reelection in their respective districts in 2024. D3 is an open seat in 2022 since no incumbent lives in the district.
There were other alternatives that Council could have considered to avoid pushing Silva into a political timeout. According to the demographer Dr. Levitt, “continuity in office,” or maintaining an incumbent’s ability to be reelected to represent their district could be considered when drawing boundaries as long as all federal and state redistricting requirements are first met, despite the CA Elections Code section 21601(c)(2) exclusion of “political parties, incumbents, or political candidates” from the definition of “communities of interest” (COI) with respect to minimizing the division of COI.
The Council could have considered adjusting the boundaries of Map 114 to either keep Silva in D3 or place him in D5. However, placing Silva in D5 would create another conflict in which only either Silva or Zahra could potentially remain on the City Council. Map 115, the last map submitted just prior to the final redistricting hearing, added Silva to D5 by including Fullerton College and the neighborhood east to Acacia, and expanded D1 to the southwest, which reduced the population variance from 9.38% to 4.6%, compared to Map 114. Though it was included in his report, Levitt, did not present this map to Council and said he could not recommend it without revisions.
A majority of council members did not support Maps 110 or 112 that mostly maintained the existing horizontal alignment of D3 and would have allowed Silva to remain in his current district. Map 112 was the demographer’s revision of Map 110, submitted by the Fullerton Redistricting Coalition. Proponents of map 110 never argued for the alignment of D3 as a means to keep Silva in his district. At previous redistricting public hearings, some speakers explicitly stated that map 110 was not intended to benefit any incumbents and described D3 as a district to provide representation for renters, residents in historic housing, and students.
At the March 29 meeting, rather than arguing the merits of the coalition map, supporters of Map 110 or 112 mainly focused on the long-term impact of Council not selecting the map with the most public support and their opposition to City Council selecting the final map rather than allowing an independent redistricting commission to do so.
Jonathan Paik, one of the plaintiffs in the California Voting Rights Act challenge that established City Council voting districts in Fullerton, recalled how the voices of people historically disenfranchised by not having representation on the Council rallied for a similar map in 2016. He said the people who participated then and the students, renters, and other people newly participating now would feel discouraged, but they will “fight forever.”
Jody Vallejo, a member of the Redistricting Advisory Commission (RAC) asked the Council to reconsider Maps 110 and 112, not because they were the best maps, but for people to feel respected and to know that their participation matters for democracy to work. She also asked the Council to discuss communities of interest, demographics, and the merits of each map to “show our city that you care.”
City Attorney Barlow recommended to the Council that they provide “substantive discussion” for the record explaining why they support or oppose particular maps. Whitaker said there were benefits to each map, but the simplicity and compactness of Map 114 were most important to him. Silva supported Map 112 because it was approved by the RAC and is closest to what the community supports. Zahra also acknowledged there are “merits to every map” and that Map 114 has clear lines, but he also expressed concerns over people not trusting the process and his preference for an independent commission.
Dunlap defended himself against “silly and sort of uninformed comments tonight not worth addressing.” He said, “Special interest groups behind one map” have “promoted a sense of fighting among the community.” He supported Map 114 because it is “clear, compact, and contiguous.”
Mayor Jung said he was unwilling to support Map 110 or 112 because there were no similarities between the people living at the Camden Apartments on Associated Road where he once lived, and those living on Skyline Drive. He said 114 provided a significant majority of Asian residents in his District that would enable others such as himself to get elected to Council. “I am a direct product of the Asian District,” he said, referencing the effectiveness of district elections to provide an opportunity for the Asian communities in D1 to elect a representative of their choosing.
A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the regularly scheduled City Council Meeting on April 5.
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