Large California Cities With Council Districts Are Basket Cases

San Berdoo council districts

Proponents of council districts like to say “Anaheim is the largest city in California without council districts” as if that isolated fact were an argument in and of itself. Anaheim is also the largest city in the California with a major Disney theme park. So what?

In my experience, denizens of the Left think that sort of rhetoric is extremely compelling. How many times have we heard them argue “The United States is the only major industrial democracy in the world without (fill in desired liberal social program du jour),” as if “everyone else is doing it” is a reason to do anything.

Be that as it may, let’s take a look at these other, more progressives cities that elect their councilmembers by districts:

Los Angeles: a broke metropolis of 3,792,621 with 15 council districts. Broke and getting broker. Under the thumb of public employee unions and various left-wing pressure groups (larger cousins of the coalition pressing for single-member districts in Anaheim).

San Diego: a city of 1,322,553 with nine council districts. Ground zero of the municipal pension bomb.

Stockton: a city of 201,707 with six council districts. The largest American city to file for bankruptcy. Ever. And ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America, to boot.

San Bernardino: a city of 209,924 with seven districts. Filing for bankruptcy. And with a rising crime rate.

Santa Ana: a city of 324,528 with six districts. A fiscal basket case.

Riverside: a city of with seven districts. Another city in dire fiscal straits.

Oakland: a crime-ridden city of 395,817 with seven councilmembers elected from districts and one at-large councilmember  . Another progressive citadel staring at a pension time bomb of its own making.

Boy, a real collection of real exemplars of fiscal probity! Why wouldn’t the citizens of Anaheim want to emulate their example!

In stark contrast, Anaheim, a city of 336,265 has a five-member city council elected on an at-large basis, has not come close to the brink of the budgetary chasm and its fiscal situation is improving.

I do not claim a causal relationship between these cities dire financial situation and the fact they elect their councils by district. But it’s had to miss to key distinction between Anaheim and its large-city brethren council-district systems: Anaheim is in solid fiscal shape, the other cities are embroiled in varying degrees of fiscal disaster.

If Anaheim is being urged to follow the lead of these other large California cities by embracing council districts, then it is fair to ask how well those cities are governed. The obvious answer is: badly.

The proper goal of governance reform ought to be making the governance structure better able to fulfill government’s reason for existence: to secure our natural rights, in a manner in which the will of the majority is represented while respecting the right of the minority. District proponents haven’t mounted much of an argument beyond claiming there haven’t been “enough” Latinos elected to the Anaheim City Council, and they think single-member districts will remedy that (as well as usher the Age of Aquarius into Anaheim).

There is an argument to be made for council districts in Anaheim. I think it is a weak one, and that the argument against them is much stronger.  But judging by the dysfunction of their municipal governments, the example of other large California cities is hardly a compelling one.


  1. Gustavo Arellano

    Meanwhile, Matty Boy conveniently leaves out Newport Beach, which also has district elections. Wonder why he doesn’t rail against them? That’s right: because the politics there are super-majority Republican, and anything that Republicans do is gospel.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      Furthermore, Gustavo, although NB council candidates must reside in the districts from which they are running, they run city-wide.

      Seal Beach is the only Orange County city with single-member council districts.

      • Well then why the &*%$ did you bring up Santa Ana except that it’s easy to make fun of? Boom! Snap! Thank you. I’ll be here all week.

        • Matthew Cunningham

          Good thing you’re so easily impressed by yourself, Vern. At least somebody is.

          I included Santa Ana because they do have district-based elections, and it is comparable to Anaheim in population. And the fact that Santa Ana has an at-large component which should also make it obvious, even to you Vern, that an at-large system doesn’t disenfranchise Latino voters.

          • You’re talking in circles. You told Gustavo you left out Newport because they have the same system as Santa Ana, which is NOT what’s envisioned for Anaheim.

            And what you just said about at-large representation not disenfranchising Latino voters … is it obvious to everyone what nonsense that is? Anyone can see that in an overwhelmingly Latino town like SA, it’s the WHITES and VIETS that are disenfranchised. (Actually Anaheim will look like that in a decade if you don’t get districting.)

            This whole post is nonsense. But at least a few of your friends are impressed with it.

            • Matthew Cunningham

              Vern: That is not what I said to Gustavo. I told him I didn’t inlcude NB because the comparsion that your side makes is among large CA cities, and Newport is not a large city.

              As to your second point: Latinos are the largest ethnicity in Anaheim – about 50%. Not as large as the Latino percentage in SA, but still a preponderance. In Santa Ana, it took quite some time before the ethnic make-up of the council came to reflect that of the city. And they didn’t have to re-jigger their election system in order to engineer that outcome.

              Finally, I reject your, frankly, un-American contention that enfranchisement is a function of race. It is that belief, Vern, that is nonsense.

  2. Matthew Cunningham

    The comparison was between Anaheim and other large California cities. Newport Beach is not a large city.

    I know it isn’t easy but try to keep up, Gustavo.

  3. Matt’s right to say “I do not claim a causal relationship between these cities dire financial situation and the fact they elect their councils by district.”

    And he’s clever to hide that sentence deep in his article.

    What I notice him not mentioning is San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach or Bakersfield. All districted cities. I wonder why he cherrypicked THOSE ones out. Shall we find out? I’ll be back.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      Oh boy. I can hardly wait for the next phantasmagoric emanations from your brain. Remember, Vern: go with your imagination – don’t let facts or there absence get in the way!

  4. Vern – it doesn’t escape anyone that the super majority of the cities you cherrypicked are hard core bastions of liberal leadership – no wonder you want to district and divide the City of Anaheim – along with big labor and the DPOC.

    • What??

      I did no cherrypicking. Those are just the 6 largest districted cities that Matt left out when HE cherrypicked the ones he did.

      Ideology-colored glasses off, please. This question of district elections really is NOT ideological. The people who are fighting it now are only fighting it because the status quo is working great for them. If we do get districting, they’ll work hard (and maybe succeed) and making that work for them as well.

      • Matthew Cunningham

        And I see you’ve sunk back into calling me names and insulting my character on your little blog. Oh well. Par for the Vern Nelson course. When argument and reason fail, then attack the person.

      • What do you mean if “we” get districting, kemosabe? You don’t live in Anaheim.

        • I apologize for the overwhelming strength of my empathy, kemosabe. Anyway you never know when I might just move on over there… Fountain Valley is so damn boring….

  5. Matthew Cunningham

    Cherrypicking? Whatever, Vern. It’s your side of this debate that keeps pushing the “Anaheim is the largest CA city without districts” as an argument, so the burden is on your side to demonstrate that actually amounts to a logicall argument. What I did is demonstrate that council districts do not correlate to good government, especially limited, freedom-oriented government.

    Furthermore, the question of district elections in Anaheim most definitely IS ideologically driven. The coalition pushing for them is uniformly on the political Left, and advancing race-based arguments that are the ideological province of modern liberals. Your side waves Tom Tait’s support around like some talisman that magcallydrains away the clear idelogical component of the pro-districts campaign.

  6. I am deeply saddened that Tom Tait has done a 180 on this issue and has made no coherent argument supporting the change other than the city has been sued so we have no choice. Why have a City Attorney if we are going to fold every time the city is sued? The Mayor is a dream leader for the state’s army of trial attorneys. I’m sure they will try to draft him for state office next. At least Very Nelson, DPOC and OCEA are being true to their principles whether I agree with their ideology on this issue or not.

  7. Good post, Matt. thank you. Shows how hollow that argument by liberals for council districts is. And good to see you blogging again, by the way. The local blogosphere had become filled with third-raters like Vern Nelson and Greg Diamond.

  8. i’m sorry but i just want to point out that the population of Anaheim is almost if not 50% Latino, some like to argue and say those are disfranchise by the current system, really the lack of Latinos representation in the council shows the lack of political stratification among the community and/or shows voter apathy among the Latino Population like in LA (20% turnout in primary elections) or a large number of foreign nationals are the real reasons.

  9. Of that 50%, roughly 55% are, um, undocumented and cannot vote. Toss in a small percentage of under-aged voters and you’re left with about 20% of what you call disenfranchised, I call boo-hooing people who what to change the entire system.

    Now take that 20% and reduce it by the 80% who don’t vote, and what are you left with?

    And you wonder why people are against this. Ha.

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