For Anaheim’s Latinos, Little Has Changed A Year After The Riots

A year after riots rocked Disneyland following the fatal police shootings of half a dozen Hispanic men, residents of Anaheim, Calif., say they are frustrated that little has changed in the place long known as the “happiest place on earth.”

Tensions between the public and the police continue to linger. The City Council and Latinos are in a tug-of-war over whether the city’s power structure and the at-large voting districts need to change. A civilian review board that has long been talked about has not materialized.

In an at-large voting system, elected officials represent all of the city's population rather than constituents from specific areas or districts.

“Nothing of substance has changed in the city,” Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, told Fox News Latino. “There is dramatic inequality; the poorer neighborhoods get fewer resources. And there has been no substantive change in how the police are held accountable. There still isn’t civilian oversight of police conduct.”

Tensions began simmering in the city last year after there were several police-involved shootings. They reached a boiling point when two unarmed Latino men were fatally shot by police in one weekend, sparking days of protests.

Anaheim, 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has everything from upscale hilltop homes to crammed apartment complexes. It is known as home to the Angels baseball team and the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, and above all, to world-famous Disneyland. While city officials tout the entertainment and resort attractions, few visitors to Anaheim ever see the neighborhoods populated by the Latino working class.

Gangs began cropping in Anaheim's grittier neighborhoods recently, and police began carrying out a major crackdown to curb violence. The stepped-up enforcement, many Latinos said, made them feel as if they were being targeted – and that caused friction with police and some members of the community.

All of the police officers involved in last year's shootings were eventually cleared.

One of the biggest issues still plaguing the city is how council members should be elected.

In June of last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the City of Anaheim contending that the city violated the California Voting Rights Act because of its use of at-large elections to elect council members. Latinos constitute 53 percent of the city’s population, yet there are no Latinos on the city council.

In the city’s 156-year history, there have only been three Latino council members.

On Tuesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz Miller postponed his ruling on how the city elects its council. He is waiting until the end of the month for the city council to finalize its plan of the voting system they approved last week. The ruling came a week after the council decided to put forth a measure where council members would still be elected by the entire city but would have to live in particular voting districts that haven’t yet been drawn.

This was not the solution activists were looking for.

Many Latino groups have been clamoring for single-member districts in the city because they feel people with fewer resources can run smaller, more targeted campaigns.

Even current Mayor Tom Tait has said he believes “that districts are closer to people.”

Many claim having to campaign citywide is too cost-prohibitive for many Latinos, who do not have the financial wherewithal to carry out a large campaign.

“It costs more money for people to run for city council in Anaheim because the current system is an at large system – it costs between $300,000 - $500,000 to run, and if you aren’t connected to the established business interests, you get very little financial support from the average residents,” Jose Moreno, one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit and an Anaheim City School District member, told Fox News Latino.

Moreno said that this has resulted in councils with members who mainly represent the entertainment and resorts' interests.

“We have been supporting the idea of having district elections for the past year,” said Anaheim resident and activist Yesenia Rojas. "Right now we don’t have representation. We need council members who will stop being puppets for Disney.”

But Council Member Kris Murray has argued that the at large system makes elected officials accountable to the entire city.

“The city and our electorate have been very successful in electing people of all ethnic classes that are stepping up to serve, especially of the Hispanic community,” she said last week.

But aside from the political issues, major problems remain with the police department.

Since last July’s riots, citizens who live in areas where the shootings occurred actively video record interactions with the police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.