Nearly 75 residents of Orange County spoke Friday night before the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in Santa Ana representing a variety of ethnic groups, geographic areas, and economic interests. Yet, this mixed group voiced remarkable consensus on three principles for drawing new political boundaries: Keep cities together; don’t split ethnic groups; and stay within county lines.
“Orange County in itself is its own community of interest,” said Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante. “It shares common histories and inter-city relationships. Its border should be broken only once, if necessary, to keep it as intact as possible.”
Orange County has seen an explosive growth in its Asian population over the past ten years. Census data shows Asians here are more likely than whites or Hispanics to live in ethnically mixed neighborhoods, and representatives from various sub-groups – Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese – advocated to keep Asian enclaves together. Speakers especially urged the commission to preserve the integrity of Little Saigon, a Vietnamese hub located primarily in Garden Grove and Westminster.
The residents of those two cities, said interpreter Carol Ngo, “are bonded by a shared language and culture, but also in our shared needs for services in education, immigration and health care. As Vietnamese Americans are becoming more aware of their civic duties and are engaging actively in the political process, all we are asking for is a fair shot so our voices can be heard in unity and not diluted as they have been in the past.”
Attorney Peggy Huang agreed. “I would just ask that you keep us in mind because the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community has been marginalized,” she said. “It’s time that we create districts so that we’re invited to the table.
Many Latino residents, including several civic leaders, also called on the commission to protect their voting power as a group. They recommended keeping Anaheim and Santa Ana in a single district, because the county’s two largest cities share similar Latino, blue-collar demographics.
With three million residents, Orange is the state’s third most populous county, sandwiched between its two larger neighbors to the north (Los Angeles) and south (San Diego). Participants agreed Friday on the county’s major dividing line separating the denser, ethnically diverse north and more affluent, coastal south. Refining that split is the challenge, especially when it comes to smaller cities such as Huntington Beach, Stanton or the City of Orange. Commission members repeatedly asked speakers for more details to pinpoint exactly how they see themselves connected to neighboring cities.
Not all opinions were compatible. One speaker, La Habra City Councilwoman Rose Espinoza, urged commissioners to correct political boundaries that now split her city between two congressional districts in two counties. On the other hand, Korean-American community leader Charles Kim asked the commission to ignore county lines and join several cities that straddle the same Orange/Los Angeles boundary but share common interests based on significant Asian populations.
Francisco Barragan, head of a Mexican-American Veterans Association, was the sole Latino voice calling for Santa Ana and Anaheim to be split into two congressional districts to make them more competitive and responsive to broader interests, rather than “segregated” based on race. “I might be on the contrarian side,” said the Mexican immigrant, “but I don’t think it’s contrary to the idea of e pluribus unum, out of many one. Diversity is our strength.”
This public hearing is one in a series conducted across the state. For a complete schedule and to view video from past meetings, go to the CCRC website.