Supervisors Deny Bid for Second Latino-Majority District

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a redistricting plan that leaves boundaries largely unchanged and does not create a second Latino-majority district.

Supervisor Gloria Molina was the sole vote against the plan recommended by the county’s Boundary Review Committee, also called A3.

Supervisor Gloria Molina

Both Molina and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had submitted alternative proposals, each of which would create a second, Latino-majority district in the county.

But Ridley-Thomas ultimately voted to support the BRC’s plan after the two alternatives were defeated.

If the board had been unable to muster the four votes needed to approve any of the plans, the decision, by law, would have been made by a committee comprised of District Attorney Steve Cooley, County Assessor John Noguez and Sheriff Lee Baca.

Ridley-Thomas and his colleagues wanted to avoid that. That was one reason voted with colleagues to approve A3.

“Rather than put (redistricting) into an untested, uncertain, potentially quite partisan arena,” he said, “it’s better to put it in a much more appropriate place, the courts,” which is where Ridley-Thomas said he believed the matter would ultimately be decided.

On that issue, he and Molina seem to agree. As Molina made the case for her alternative redistricting map, she referred repeatedly to Garza vs. the County of Los Angeles, which generated a 1990 ruling that the Latino community had been denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and forced the county to redraw its district boundaries. Those maps resulted in Molina’s election as the board’s first Latina representative.

She insisted the board had an ”obligation” to create a second Latino-majority district in Los Angeles County to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

“It was predictable for this board,” Molina said, referring to the final vote, “which is very unfortunate. I thought that we put a very compelling case before them.”

An estimated 1,300 Angelenos turned out to show support for their favorites among the competing plans to redraw the county’s five supervisorial districts.

More than 900 signed up to speak. Overflow crowds were seated in rooms around the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration and in folding chairs under a tent outside, waiting their turn.

The county is required to redraw boundaries once every 10 years to reflect U.S. Census data. The 2010 federal count showed that Latinos make up 48 percent of the county population, up from 45 percent in 2000, and more than a third of the county’s potential voters.

Many from the Latino community argued that the A3 map maintains a status quo that disenfranchises them as voters. They recalled a time, before the Voting Rights Act led to more Latino elected officials, when many of their needs — for health care, transportation and public safety — went unmet.

But those opposed to the creation of a second Latino-majority district argued that race should not be the basis for drawing districts and that Molina and Ridley-Thomas’ proposals would destroy other important communities of interest and relationships that have been cultivated over many years.

Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) both spoke in favor of the Boundary Review Commitee’s proposal, A-3, in order to maintain important constituencies that, for example, protect the Santa Monica Mountains.

Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Laura Zahn Rosenthal agreed.

“We share emergency preparedness, we share a watershed and we share transportation issues,” Rosenthal said of the communities in the Third District, urging that they be kept intact.

Others have argued that creating a second Latino district amounts to gerrymandering on the basis of race. But Assemblymember Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) disagreed.

Councilmember Eric Garcetti

“It isn’t about race, it’s about fair representation in Los Angeles County,” he said.

Councilmember Eric Garcetti, who is running to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, stepped out of a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council to appear before the board and echo that sentiment.

“We have before us a chance to make history,” Garcetti said. He called upon the board to support either Molina’s or Ridley-Thomas’ plan “to make sure that we have a fair playing field for everybody. We need, in this city and in this county, to make sure that we have representation that mirrors what our city is like and what our county is like.”

Hundreds of other citizens, from high school kids to seniors, representing communities of all races, spoke out on both sides before the vote. Supervisor Michael Antonovich frequently had to call for quiet in the hearing room. Barred from cheering speakers they endorsed, many in the audience raised signs reading, “Follow the numbers. Follow the law.”

Lawsuits have been threatened by both sides and Molina seemed to be preparing for that eventuality, inviting law professors and activists to provide what she characterized as “expert testimony” on the Voting Rights Act.

Professor Matt Barreto, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, argued that a review of election data shows that Latino and non-Latino voters are polarized in their voting habits. That assertion is key to determining whether the Voting Rights Act would require a second Latino-majority district.

It is a point that Molina emphasized during a presentation she made following the public testimony. She cited analysis of 27 recent elections that showed that, on average, 71 percent of Latinos voted together for Latino candidates, while 70 percent of non-Latinos voted against those same candidates.

The county’s newly approved plan “ensures that Latinos will consistently be unable to elect a candidate of their choice,” she said.

But Laura Brill of Kendall, Brill & Kleiger, hired by the county to analyze the redistricting issue, disagreed with that interpretation. She has previously said that the Voting Rights Act “does not create a right to control election outcomes in a particular district.” She has also indicated that election data is subject to differing interpretations and that the choice of particular elections may be critical to the legal analysis.

There was some last-minute drama in the board’s decision. All three plans were first voted down. Then the supervisors moved into a short closed-door session to clarify some legal issues. On their return, Antonovich proposed an amendment to the A3 plan that moved some boundaries to keep Hawthorne,  Pico-Riviera and Azusa intact in a single district and make some other minor modifications.

Antonovich, Molina and Ridley-Thomas all agreed the changes were intended to clean up small anomalies and not the reason for Ridley-Thomas’ changed vote.

“Regrettably … we find ourselves in a circumstance where a federal court will likely determine whether a second (Latino-majority) district is required,” said Ridley-Thomas before making that vote.

In a discussion after the meeting had ended, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he believed that the Fourth District as drawn under the approved map would be one where Latinos will be able to elect a candidate of their own choosing. Before considering the board’s last-minute amendment, that district would be 43.3 percent Latino, according to an analysis by the county’s Chief Executive Office.

But Molina held her ground, saying the new Fourth District would not constitute what was characterized as a “Latino-opportunity” district.

“It could be in 10 years, but it isn’t today,” she said. “Just by saying so, doesn’t make it so. …The facts aren’t there.”

That question of whether an absolute majority is required to afford the Latino community its rights under the Voting Rights Act may ultimately be decided in court.

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