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Anaheim's Latino majority feels underrepresented at City Hall (Live chat)

August 7, 2012 |  6:00 am

After several weeks of unrest in Anaheim over two fatal police shootings, more attention is being focused on the city's changing demographics. Some believe it's time for the city to change the way residents vote.

The Times' Nicole Santa Cruz will discuss this issue during a live chat at 9 a.m.

According to the latest U.S. census, Anaheim is now majority minority. About 52% of the city's 336,000 residents are Latino, but only a handful of Latinos have ever won council seats.

Anaheim is also the largest city in California that still elects council members at large, meaning council members are elected on a citywide basis. Like Santa Ana in the 1990s, Anaheim is now under growing pressure to switch to district voting, which usually makes it easier for minority groups to win council seats because voting is broken into smaller geographic segments. The City Council could decide next week to put the question on the November ballot.

Anaheim is just the latest California city to reach this threshold, where traditional minority groups attain majority status in population but still struggle to get more political power.

This gap is especially pronounced in cities with large immigrant communities, where many residents cannot vote. Only half of the voting-age Latinos in Anaheim are citizens, according to census data.

Compton recently agreed to switch to district voting, a response to a voting rights lawsuit. The city is two-thirds Latino, but the council is traditionally made up of blacks. Civil rights activists have sought the same shift in a number of other California cities in recent years, including West Covina, Tulare and Visalia.

District elections in Anaheim could dramatically change the political dynamic. 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. About 58% of the residents are white. The area has a median income of more than $100,000.

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. Pockets of this community have poverty rates exceeding 25%, the analysis found.

The western section of Anaheim, near Disneyland, represents a third demographic. This area is the most diverse section of the city, where Latinos make up about 51% of the population. The majority of the city's blacks and Asians live there.

Census records show a dramatic disparity in education.

Nearly half the adults age 25 and above in the east have graduated from college, with one in six holding a master's degree or higher. Fewer than one in five in the central and western areas have college degrees, and about the same number were high school dropouts.