Originally posted at The Liberal OC.
By Dan Chmielewski.
The Sunday edition of the Daily Pilot raises the issue that changing the way Costa Mesa elects its city council might have a profound impact on the city’s growing Latino population.
There’s support growing to have the city move towards district elections to ensure greater Latino representation on the city council and that is sure to strike fear into the hearts of the city’s current council majority.
From the story:
Costa Mesa is one of dozens of cities statewide facing mounting pressure to switch from at-large elections — meaning officials are elected from the whole city — to districted voting systems, where council members are elected to represent a certain region of the city. Such systems, many say, better foster minority representation.
If state leaders are successful, that pressure could lead to sweeping changes in the way Costa Mesa residents elect their leaders.
“We’re here, we want to be seen,” said 22-year-old Oswaldo Farias, who has lived in Costa Mesa for most of his life, “but it hasn’t really been reflected in local policymakers.”
Local officials say that the current system is working fine and that separating the city into districts would prove divisive.
A 13-member charter committee has been tasked with drafting a document that, if approved by voters, could enshrine an election system that some say has effectively shut out a significant segment of the community — one that watched in fear as the city took some of the state’s most stringent and controversial measures against illegal immigration several years ago.
Though the idea of building council districts into the charter was dismissed by members of the committee, experts say the issue is not likely to go away.
“This is coming,” said Chapman University political science associate professor Fred Smoller, who closely follows local government. “It’s a big deal, and it’s really going to change politics in Orange County.”
Costa Mesa’s Latino population accounts for 36 percent of the city’s 112,000 residents and the city has never elected a Latino council member. The city’s Westside neighborhood is about 70 percent Latino. The key to election a Latino council member remains voter registration and turnout. If the city is compelled to move to districts, the Republican council majority would be in serious jeopardy.
In addition to the Westside, the area of Costa Mesa that includes Orange Coast College and the Orange County Fairgrounds, has a majority of the city’s Asian-American residents.
Could Costa Mesa turn blue? With districting — a concept that works well in many cities back East without the “competitive fears” that folks in power who hate change warn about — anything is possible.