Single-Member Council Districts Not A Panacea

council district unicorn

The Magic Council District Unicorn

On Tuesday, the Anaheim City Council will vote on, among other things, whether the place a ballot question before the voters asking if they want to elect the City Council from single-member districts. [This weekend, I noted how the draft resolutions omit one of the Anaheim Citizen Advisory Committee’s unanimous recommendations regarding at-large elections].

As readers of this blog know, I strongly believe this is a terrible idea for Anaheim, for a number of reasons. And I am not alone in the opinion.

During the Anaheim Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) process, Councilwoman Lucille Kring spoke to the CAC (I believe she was the only member of the council to do so) about how the dynamics of a single-member districts are far from the panacea advocates sell it as, appealing from the well of common sense and experience:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zv0V_f-eWwc&w=420&h=315]

If you attended or watched enough of the CAC meetings, it was clear that UNITE-HERE and OCCORD had led their public comment brigades to believe that whatever they though the city should be doing for them, the creation of eight single-member council districts would make that wish come true. More city services? 8 single-member council districts would deliver those. Better parks? Faster police response times? Fewer drug squatters in abandoned homes? More civility at council meetings? Eight single-member council districts would solve all municipal problems, big and small.

I don’t really blame the people who are being misled by OCCORD, UNITE-HERE and their allies. Those are the organizations from whom they hear. But it is still malarky.

Under a single-member council district system, a councilmember’s ability to deliver for his or her district hinges on being able to put together majority for whatever it is you want. Under the proposal favored by Mayor Tait, OCCORD, UNITE-HERE and a panoply of the Left, it would mean a minimum of five votes.

Given how fractious human nature and politics are, that is a tall order. And single-member council districts will not repeal human nature. Look at the level of negativity and dysfunction that has afflicted the city council for the last 18 months. Does anyone seriously believe that dysfunction will be lessened — rather than amplified — by switching to an eight-person council elected from single-member districts? If so, I have a pretty unicorn to sell them.

The more likely outcome is those councilmembers who are on the outs with the majority will find their districts getting the short end of the stick. That doesn’t happen now, because the entire council represents the entire city. If the mayor or a particular councilmember find themselves on the losing end of a vote or votes, particular areas are not paying a political price.

Contrary to OCCORD’s fanciful claim this radical re-structuring will mean an “equal voice for every neighborhood,” it will lead to some parts of Anaheim being short-changed and a less rational and ebven distribution of city resources,

Cost Is A Factor
There is also a cost involved in expanding the council. The number I have heard regarding how much each councilmember “costs” the taxpayers is between $150,000 to $250,000. Even a reasonable expansion of the council to six members costs taxpayers somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

The radical proposal to double the size of the council to eight means an additional  $600,000 to $1 million per year from taxpayers.

Given that proponents of this more radical expansion have been bemoaning the cost to the city of fighting the ACLU lawsuit, I would think the vastly greater annual cost of doubling the size of the council might give them pause.

But that would require believing they are genuinely concerned about the costs of the lawsuit, and not just using it as a debate point.

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  1. I heard Councilwoman Murray speak on this issue at the first or second meeting of the CAC as well. I appreciate both of them speaking up on the impacts to Anaheim if this proposal were to pass. Let’s hope there is an opportunity for a fair and balanced discussion at tomorrow night’s council meeting.

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