By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
A coalition of Asian Pacific Islander community organizations in Los Angeles County is supporting a redistricting plan that it says will keep API communities together and give them a stronger political voice.
Every 10 years, the county redraws the boundaries for the five supervisorial districts in response to population changes recorded by the U.S. Census. The Board of Supervisors is reviewing three redistricting plans and will make its final decision on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
At a press conference outside the Board of Supervisors Auditorium on Wednesday, Mariko Kahn, president of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), spoke on behalf of over 40 organizations that have been addressing the needs of APIs in the county for the past 35 years, including health care, mental health, social service, legal and advocacy agencies.
“We are very concerned about two of the plans (S2 and T1) that are being presented, and we want to strongly inform the community that we are in support of the A3 plan,” Kahn said
Mark Masaoka, A3PCON policy coordinator, noted that the board is required to pass a plan by the end of the month in order for it to take effect by Oct. 31, and a plan will require at least four votes to pass; if no plan gets enough votes, the decision will be made by three county elected officials: Sheriff Lee Baca, District Attorney Steve Cooley, and Assessor John Noguez.
“The A3 plan retains the basic framework of the current supervisorial boundaries,” Masaoka explained. “This is essentially the same framework that the supervisors have had since 1992, when a new system was developed and required by a court order. The strength of the A3 plan is that it connects the historic enclaves, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Historic Filipinotown, with residential centers like Monterey Park and Montebello in the San Gabriel Valley (in District 1) …
“The 4th District includes the South Bay, the southeast corner of the county and east San Gabriel Valley. These are areas where we’ve had historically active Asian Pacific Islander voting populations. For example, the six APIs who have been elected to either Congress or the Senate or the Assembly, of those six, four of them have come from districts that are within the 4th Supervisorial District. We’re concerned that if the 4th District is broken up as it is in the S2 and T1 plans, the Asian American and Pacific Islander political influence will be diluted and dispersed.”
Another problem with S2 and T1, he continued, is that “both those plans take those same historic communities of Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Historic Filipinotown and instead of connecting them to the San Gabriel Valley, it connects them to a sort of Freeway 5 corridor which goes all the way to Canoga Park and Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley, through the downtown area, and then to the southeast areas of Huntington Park and Bell Gardens. That … further divides the influence we’re able to have in the supervisorial districts.”
A3 was recommended by the county’s Boundary Review Commission, which conducted a series of public hearings, and revised by the Board of Supervisors. S2 was proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas of District 2 and T1 by Supervisor Gloria Molina of District 1 to comply with the Voting Rights Act. They said in a joint statement last month that their goal is to “create two Latino-opportunity districts while simultaneously ensuring that all other minority groups’ voting powers remain protected.”
“Hard-Fought Political Influence”
Herb Hatanaka, a member of the Boundary Review Commission, spoke in favor of A3, which he said makes only a modest change to equalize the population across each of the districts. “For the API community, the A3 plan protects the hard-fought political influence that we have achieved over the past 25 years. In Los Angeles County, we are now the second-largest ethnic minority population of over 1.5 million residents. A3 protects the best interests of our communities, which are prominent in every one of the five supervisorial districts.
“The two alternative plans, T1 and S2, both create two majority Latino majority districts, and in our view those plans are based on a very misleading argument. Advocates for those plans claim that since our Latino friends and neighbors now represent 47 percent of the population, that Voting Rights Act compliance requires the creation of two districts. That is not a correct interpretation …
“Voting Rights Act compliance is based on the number or percentage of citizens eligible to vote in the population … In that regard, Latino residents are 33 percent of the county’s total of citizens eligible to vote … In our opinion, being one-third of all citizens of voting age is insufficient to justify the creation of two majority Latino districts … because to do so means radically displacing significant numbers of the other two-thirds of the population.
“As a consequence, the two alternative plans would displace over 3.4 million residents in the county into a new district that they did not vote for or choose to be in. For APIs, that means that over 470,000 of our people would be separated from their current district of choice, and most importantly, both plans would dilute the strength of our vote as a united community.”
He added that A3PCON has met with the supervisors on numerous occasions to make its concerns known.
Views from Chinatown, Koreatown, Thai Town
Lawrence J. Lue, CEO of the Chinatown Service Center, said his organization provides health and human services not only in Chinatown but also San Gabriel Valley. S2 and T1, he said, would put these areas in the southern tip of a district that extends all the way to Sylmar and “break off … a significant part of the Chinese community to a new district where our influence … would be greatly weakened, which means that we would have a harder case to advocate for services for the residents of that community.”
Hyepin Im, president and CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development, said that API communities are already underserved by the county, and S2 and T1 would make the situation even worse. “We need the community’s support and awareness of this issue … We need to stand united to support one another so that we may be able to have our voice and our rights at the decision-making table … We will not just roll over.”
Grace Yoo, executive director of Korean American Coalition, added that although Koreatown would be “pretty much intact” under all three plans, “we’re here because we’re supporting our API sister organizations.”
Joel Jacinto, executive director of Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, said that for the Filipino American community there is already a “big disconnect” between the size of the population and the amount of services it receives. He recalled the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Asian Americans banded together to tell policymakers, “It’s not just brown and black, it’s all shades of that rainbow … We have to realize that empowerment of any ethnic group should not be at the expense of another.”
Chancee Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, said that her community is considered a minority even among Asian Americans. “We will not accept further marginalization. It is for that reason why I’m here today, to support any effort on the part of the broader API community to unite our communities around common interests and push for a strategy that will recognize the larger API community and also the distinct needs and issues of every ethnic community.”
Clara Chiu, development director of the Asian Pacific Community Fund, said that the 29 nonprofits that make up her organization have built relationships with each other and with local governments over several years. “Under plans S2 and T1, over a third of our organizations will find themselves in new districts, having to start all over again to build new relationships … S2 and T1 will just add another layer of difficulty to an already demanding climate for these nonprofits where funding is continually cut.”
Charlie Woo, board chair of the Center for Asians United for Self-Empowerment (CAUSE) and an immigrant businessman, said that in addition to communities in the downtown/San Gabriel Valley and South Bay areas, eastern cities like Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar “are also communities with heavy Asian populations, and it is really important for them to come together to be represented in the same political district.”
Masaoka commented that although Asians are still viewed as a model minority, “if you look at the statistics, nationally Asian Americans suffer the highest loss of home ownership of any ethnic groups. Even though our poverty rate is still not as high as some of the other minorities, it still is very high … To be able to service these elements of our community, this is an important stand for us to take to be able to get a fair redistricting plan.”
“It’s very important for APIs to take part in the process from the very beginning, not at the end,” Kahn emphasized, “so that what we’ve been doing. And because we have (Hatanaka) there and a few others, we were informed, we’ve been able to mobilize.”
Asked for his reaction, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the Rafu by email, “It is misleading for a group of social service providers to assert that they solely represent the interests of API communities. My staff and I have spoken to member groups of A3PCon and they do not hold the position expressed at the news conference.
“Asian American civil rights organizations and leaders — those with expertise in Voting Rights Act issues — have not backed a particular proposed Los Angeles County redistricting map. They have told me they do not see a zero-sum equation in which broadening Latino representation somehow hurts another group.
“The redistricting map I support increases the voting strength of APIs.
“I don’t believe promoting fair representation for one group means another group has to lose.”