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Anaheim: Residents pack town hall; "Things have to change"

August 8, 2012 |  4:37 pm

Anaheim protests
Scores of residents arrived at a community meeting in Anaheim on Wednesday afternoon, jamming a high school auditorium designed to hold 900 people.

Church volunteers greeted attendees with white t-shirts with blue print that read "No violence in Anaheim."

Alex Vega, 52, of Santa Ana said he came out because he was tired of the violence in Anaheim.

"When I was living in Anaheim, it was nice and peaceful and now it's gotten out of hand," Vega said, sitting in the front row of the auditorium with his three children.

But he said he supported those who believe the city is large enough and diverse enough to switch to council districts rather than elect council members at large. 

"Things have to change," he said.

Estela Rodriguez, 74, said that when her family moved into their West Anaheim neighborhood in 1973 they were the only Latinos. Now they are among the majority.

"This whole community has changed," she said.

Rodriguez said she can understand some protesters, who have taken to the streets in recent weeks. She said sometimes the police do use tactics that rile people.

"There is a feeling among the Latino community that the police think of us as the criminal element," she said.

Anaheim in recent weeks has been rocked by street protests and violence since the fatal police shootings of two Latino men last month. While much of the anger has been directed at police, it has also renewed the debate over the wide gulf between the conditions of the wealthier neighborhoods and those in working-class Latino areas.

Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects its leaders on a citywide basis, rather than by council districts.

While the city in the past has resisted switching to council districts there is now added urgency to overhaul the way voters pick their leaders in order to tap into the city’s growing diversity.

Even Disneyland –- the city’s largest employer and most famous corporate citizen -– joined the debate by announcing that it backed the switch to council districts.

“We believe that city leadership should reflect the diversity of its entire population,” George Kalogridis, president of the Disneyland resort, wrote in a letter to Mayor Tom Tait and council members.

“This shift," he wrote, "will allow each valued neighborhood to be represented by a local council member of their choosing.”

Backers of district voting say the current system tips the scale in favor of the wealthier hillside neighborhoods.

A neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis of census data by The Times shows that the city is deeply segregated along ethnic lines. There is a strong white majority in the city's newer, more affluent east side, including picturesque Anaheim Hills, an enclave nearly physically separated from the rest of the city.

But Latinos dominate in the central core of Anaheim generally between the 5 and 55 freeways, an area marked by barrios and dense apartments. Here, 68% of the residents are Latino and incomes fall below the Orange County average.


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Photo: Police in riot gear at recent street protests. Credit: Los Angeles Times.