By Eric Carpenter, The Orange County Register
ANAHEIM – Community leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Anaheim, saying the city in effect silences Latinos by shutting them out of the electoral process.
In Anaheim, the city's mayor and four council members are elected "at-large," meaning they can come from any part of the city. No Latino is currently on the council and four of the five council members live in Anaheim Hills.
Latino leader Amin David, backed by supporters, talks about a lawsuit he filed along with the ACLU alleging a violation of voters rights and calling on Anaheim to elect council members by district for better representation of Latinos.The lawsuit calls for Anaheim to elect council members from individual districts – a move the plaintiffs say will ensure better representation of all residents, including Latinos.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court, also names local businessman and Latino leader Amin David and teacher Consuelo Garcia as plaintiffs.
On Thursday, Moreno, Garcia and David – backed by about 100 community members – held a news conference on the steps of City Hall, saying it's time for change.
They held signs and mirrors with slogans such as "City Leadership Should Mirror Our Communities."
In the city's history, only three Latinos have ever served on the council. And to have no Latino representation now – when the Latino population has reached 54 percent of the city's 354,000 residents – is unjust, supporters of the suit said.
David said he has been active in city politics for 40 years and began pushing for district elections at least 20 years ago but has seen no significant movement.
"We would have a different Anaheim today; they would have had to listen to the needs of individual districts," David said. "We need change."
Most Orange County communities elect their city council members at-large and not via districts. Santa Ana, the county's other large city, does elect by districts.
City officials didn't immediately respond to requests for comments.
A city workshop on the issue has been scheduled for 5 p.m. July 11 at City Hall; it will include a panel of experts on the issue and will be attended by the City Council, Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said.
ACLU attorney Bardis Vakili said his organization has written to the city to call for district elections. City officials told him they needed more time to study the issue and that the forum was being planned.
"But at some point, we have to move forward and have the courts intervene," he said. "We reached that point."
The City Council could vote for a ballot measure that would ask residents to vote on changing the process to district elections, beginning in November 2014. If the courts are left to decide, Vakili said, a judge would first have to determine if the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act, as alleged. If so, the two sides would have to negotiate the borders of the districts.
Moreno said he had no reservations about signing his name to the lawsuit, even though he is an elected official in Anaheim.
"It's a civil rights question," Moreno said. "I've talked to a lot of people down here in the flatlands (as opposed to Anaheim Hills). Sadly, they feel disenfranchised and are losing hope. I want them to feel like they have a say."
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