Anaheim's at-large voting system focus of next special meeting

Anaheim City Council Meeting

Ed Joyce/KPCC

Joanne Sosa of "Take Back Anaheim" asked Anaheim's city council members not to cancel next week's scheduled public discussion at Anaheim High School.

The next special meeting of the Anaheim City Council will include consideration of the city's at-large voting system and whether districts should be created.

At a special meeting Thursday, the voting issue was brought up by many speakers. The public comments took about an hour at the meeting and then the council went into a closed session to get a briefing on protecting public facilities by Police Chief John Welter and other city business.

Latino community leaders say creating districts would increase chances for a Latino to be elected to the Anaheim city council. More than half of Anaheim’s population is Latino, but none sit on the City Council.

Before the closed session, citizens also weighed in on a range of contentious issues, including the two fatal police shootings of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo in July that have sparked protests and calls for change in the city’s policies.

Speakers suggested ways to resolve various issues that have drawn greater scrutiny since the July shootings.

Many urged closer oversight of Anaheim’s police department, including creation of a citizen’s review board and replacement of Police Chief John Welter with a Hispanic officer.

Many expressed fears a special city council meeting next week at Anaheim High School might be canceled because of protests and violence instigated by "outsiders."

"If you cancel, it makes it look like we’re afraid and we can’t take care of our business," Joanne Sosa with Take Back Anaheim told the Council. "The least you can do is hear what people have to say.”

Theresa Smith, whose son Cesar Cruz was shot and killed by Anaheim police three years ago, wants the city to investigate other police shootings.

"I think I speak for all the families, we don't want any violence," said Smith. "Nobody takes the time to see what the families (of shooting victims) are going through. There's no grief counseling available to us. You get no answers, you get no help. For me personally, I've been doing this almost three years, I still don't have any answers, I still don't know what's going on."

The Thursday meeting was the first council meeting at Anaheim's City Hall since July 24, when protesters clashed with police outside and inside the lobby.

After the closed session, Mayor Tom Tait said Police Chief Welter briefed city leaders about ensuring safety at next week’s special meeting.

“There are plans to keep us safe," Tait told reporters. "I’m convinced that it will be safe. We’ve heard from the community that no one is interested in violence.”

During the closed session, the council voted to hire two law firms to represent the city in a suit challenging the city’s at-large voting system.

After the Council returned to chambers, Councilmember Kris Murray asked that a commission comprised of community members be created to study how council members are elected. The Council is expected to consider that option next week.

But Mayor Tom Tait said he wants the voters to decide the issue in November.

At next week’s special meeting, which begins with public comments, the Council is expected to vote on whether to put a measure on the ballot asking if council districts should be created.

Jose Moreno, with Los Amigos of Orange County, and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city, said Anaheim’s at-large voting system clearly “dilutes Latino’s ability to have their votes matter.”

He said responses from some Anaheim council members validates why the legal challenge is necessary.

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