Voters in Fullerton, Costa Mesa and Placentia all approved ballot measures to shift their council elections from at-large to by-district. As in other Orange County cities that have already done so, these changes have been driven by actual or threatened California Voting Rights Act litigation.
In Fullerton and Costa Mesa (both of which are general law cities), citizens were voting on both the question of shifting to by-district elections and a proposed voting districts map. If these ballot measures had failed, the CVRA plaintiffs in both cities would almost certainly have renewed their litigation and the voting districts maps would have been determined by a judge rather than the respective city councils.
Beginning in 2018, council candidates will be voted on only by voters within their districts, rather than city-wide. Neither city has a run-off provision, so councilmembers will generally be elected by pluralities rather than majorities.
Since Placentia is a charter city, Measure NN only amends the charter to require district elections. Placentia will now engage a demographer to steer the map-drawing process. The city council will have until May 1, 2018 to adopt a voting districts map. Progressive political groups mobilized to influence the districting process in Anaheim, Garden Grove and Fullerton; they succeeded in getting their map adopted in Anaheim and Garden Grove, but were outmaneuvered in Fullerton. It remains to be seen if these groups will also target Placentia.
There are now seven Orange County cities that have shifted to by-district elections. None have done so due to an organic grass-roots citizens movement, but in response to threatened or actual CVRA litigation (the exception is Seal Beach, which has relied on by-district elections for many years). San Clemente is the only Orange County city in which a by-district council elections measure was headed for the ballot as a result of a citizen petition drive; however, the city council majority being targeted by the ballot measure voted to delay it until the 2018 ballot.