SANTA ANA, Calif.—Orange County supervisors voted July 26 to allow supervisors to continue representing their original districts, as well as new districts assigned during a redistricting process last year.
Supervisor Katrina Foley presented the idea to the county’s Board of Supervisors after receiving an opinion the week before from California Attorney General Rob Bonta mirroring her proposal.
Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of voiding a decision made in April that required supervisors to only represent their newly drawn districts. Supervisors Don Wagner and Lisa Bartlett voted against it, saying the opinion skirted critical issues presented by the county’s counsel.
A central issue was whether supervisors could continue holding events and spending county funds in the cities and communities that originally elected them. According to County Counsel Leon Page, supervisors must still bring spending requests to the board for a vote.
Foley’s new district covers cities in central Orange County, including Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Orange, and Tustin. Her old district, where she lives, includes coastal cities and parts of Buena Park, Fountain Valley, and Rossmoor.
Foley applauded the board’s decision.
“The outcome of today’s vote is a win for the rule of law,” Foley said in a statement issued after the meeting. “This is not about politics—this is about the voters who are entitled to their duly-elected representatives.”
Bonta cited the state Elections Code in his opinion, essentially laying out the rules that Orange County’s supervisors have now adopted.
“[A]fter redistricting and before the next regular election, the supervisors may not be prohibited from representing constituents in areas of the districts from which they were elected,” Bonta wrote. “Nonetheless, the board of supervisors may direct that the supervisors also represent their newly-drawn districts during this period.”
Wagner voted against the decision, saying Bonta’s rushed opinion was not legally binding and didn’t cover all of the facts or issues.
“We got this in about a month, and curiously, it tracks the position of the party that the attorney general belongs to, and that all of the members who asked for this opinion belong to,” Wagner said. “And it doesn’t do any of the things you expect an attorney general’s opinion to do. It doesn’t grapple with the issues that our counsel identified.”
The attorney general’s opinion did not say in which district supervisors could spend funds or resources. The county has budget authority and supervisors make those decisions, according to Wagner.
“This attorney general’s decision does not deserve us cutting and running, when we’ve got our own counsel who has given us a considered opinion, and where the attorney general does join the issues, they agree,” Wagner said.
Bartlett, who also voted against the decision, said Bonta’s opinion did not apply to local resolutions.
“The governing board for the county of Orange—the Board of Supervisors—is responsible for establishing policy and exercising local control,” Bartlett said. “By adopting this proposed item, we will create further confusion, and it will only provide a great disservice to the residents of Orange County for these reasons.”
Supervisor Andrew Do authored the original resolution, passed in April, to determine which district supervisors would represent. The county adopted a new district map last year.
However, after reading Bonta’s opinion, Do changed his mind. Do wondered, for example, which constituents would vote in the case of a recall.
“If there were to be a recall election, who would vote in that election to recall us?” Do said. “It would be our old district. If the people [in the original district] have the power to recall us, that means we have the responsibility to still represent that district.”
Page and the attorney general agreed on that point, Do said.