Last September, the city of Garden Grove settled a major lawsuit that will change the landscape of the representation on the city council.

According to the Orange County Register report at that time:

The City Council upended how residents will select its members Friday night, doing away with an independently elected mayor and opting to create five voting districts.

“The changes will go into effect in November 2016.

“The City Council approved district elections as part of a settlement agreement with Rickk Montoya, a former council candidate who argued the at-large system – where the entire city votes for each council seat – violates the California Voting Rights Act and essentially disenfranchises Latino voters.

“The city also has to pay $290,000 to Montoya for lawyer’s fees and other litigation costs.

“District elections, which are becoming increasingly common throughout California, are viewed by many as a way to give Latinos a more prominent – and, some say, fairer – role in local government.

“Garden Grove, which became an incorporated city in 1956, is about one-third white, Latino and Asian, but there is no record of a Latino ever being elected to the council.” 

Now let’s make it relevant to the underrepresented Latino population on Costa Mesa’s Westside. The bolded words are the only difference in this new version:

“The Newport-Mesa Unified School District upended how residents will select its members Friday night, doing away with an independently elected trustees and opting to create seven voting districts.

“The changes will go into effect in November 2016.

“The school board approved district elections as part of a settlement agreement with Rickk Montoya, a former school board candidate who argued the at-large system – where the entire city votes for each council seat – violates the California Voting Rights Act and essentially disenfranchises Latino voters.

“The school district also has to pay $290,000 to Montoya for lawyer’s fees and other litigation costs.

“District elections, which are becoming increasingly common throughout California, are viewed by many as a way to give Latinos a more prominent – and, some say, fairer – role in local government.

“Costa Mesa, which became an incorporated city in 1956, is about one-third white, Latino and Asian, but there is no record of a Latino ever being elected to the council.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Change about 10 words in the story and it could easily substitute for an article about our area.

In January, the settlement was set aside, but it was over details, not the overall merit of the case.

Tonight, the city council of San Juan Capistrano (SJC) will vote on the same issue.SJC is about 39 percent Latino. The city council may approve district elections instead of the current at-large process because they may face a lawsuit if they don’t. The organization urging them to change their ways is the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and SJC residents Tina Auclair and Louie Comacho.

I have lived in Costa Mesa thirty years this August. I do not recall a Latino member of the school board in all that time, nor do I recall a Latino member of the city council. But let’s focus on the school board.

Walt Davenport as a representative for the city’s deep Westside? Really? The whole system is rigged to prevent Latino representation and to prevent anyone from challenging the status quo.

The school board club here in town needs to change to a format in which residents of each of the seven areas vote for their representative. The old arguments about current system preventing favoritism are smokescreens for a discriminatory policy.

Anaheim, Buena Park, Garden Grove, Placentia, and Fullerton will all have voter districts instead of at-large districts.

It is long past the time when the N-MUSD did the same thing.

Steve Smith

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