County Sups Approve Status Quo Districts
• Litigation Is Anticipated to Follow in Decision's Wake
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, after a second hearing and several more hours of public testimony, voted 4-1, approving a plan endorsing a district map that maintains the status quo. A minimum of four votes was required for adoption.
The board went down to the wire on adopting a redistricting plan since it had to be done by the end of September in order for the corresponding boundary ordinance to be effective by the statutory deadline of Oct. 11, according to county officials.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina each proposed new redistricting plans, both of which they contended adhered to the spirit and letter of the federal civil rights laws and, as a result, would create two Latino voting districts in the county. Molina was the sole dissenting vote for the adopted plan.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky countered that it was not necessary to create two Latino districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act and accused the others of "gerrymandering" the district boundaries.
However, Ridley-Thomas said the board heard evidence that racially polarized voting exists in Los Angeles County.
"We have heard this from the Voting Rights Act counsel to the California Citizen's Redistricting Commission. We have heard it from civil rights advocates and academics. And we have heard from representatives of the Latino community—a community that makes up nearly half the population of this county," he countered.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, successfully sued the county in 1990 that resulted in the current district lines.
MALDEF maintains that the federal Voting Rights Act requires a second Latino-majority supervisorial district:
"Between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population in Los Angeles County grew by nearly half a million residents, while the non-Latino population lost nearly 150,000 people. Latinos make up almost half the county's population.
"This is not the first time Los Angeles County has put incumbents' comfort ahead of voting rights. The first Latino member of the Board of Supervisors Gloria Molina was elected only twenty years ago, after the county lost a Voting Rights Act lawsuit that proved the supervisors had intentionally sought to prevent the creation of a Latino district."
Yaroslavsky was joined by Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe in approving the controversial plan.
On Sept 6, the proposed redistricting plans, T1, S2, and A3 amended were considered at the first public hearing before the board. Following public testimony, the board closed the first hearing and scheduled the three plans to be considered at a second public hearing.
Malibu City Council members attended the public hearing to successfully convince board members the traditional boundaries that include upland mountain cities should stay aligned and that the supervisor of the district should be familiar with the Santa Monica Mountains.
"We all spoke at the redistricting meeting. We would be separated from our traditional neighbors. We want to try to prevent that," said Councilmember Lou La Monte at last week's city council meeting.
"There is also an environmental reason," said Councilmember Jefferson Wagner. "With the new supervisor boundary, we get a new supervisor, who does not know the ecology of the Santa Monica Mountains."
Mayor John Sibert said if there is no 4-1 vote. the process calls for a team of three composed of the county attorney, the sheriff and the county assessor to make the decision.
Like the state and federal governments, counties must redraw their district boundaries every 10 years to conform to the results of the U.S. Census.
However, there is a difference between the recently completed state and federal redistricting, which were performed by citizen's commissions and the county's redistricting, which is carried out by the board.
Three proposed maps were each submitted by Knabe, Molina and Ridley-Thomas.
In the words of Yaroslavsky, Molina's or Ridley-Thomas' plans would "radically redraw the Board of Supervisors' disrict boundaries, leaving communities fragmented and an estimated 3.5 million people suddenly represented by a supervisor for whom they never cast a vote."
Molina, on her website, said both new maps create two Latino-majority districts while simultaneously ensuring that all other minority groups' voting powers remain protected.
Ridley-Thomas, in a press release before last week's vote, said, "I have maintained from the start of the redistricting process that our top priority as a Board must be to adhere to federal standards, including the Voting Rights Act requirements. These requirements were not created abstractly to promote the political dominance of our interest group at the expense of other groups, but to serve all voters fairly. That the maps submitted by Supervisor Molina and myself result in the creation of Latino-opportunity voting districts is purely a consequence of our commitment to abide by the civil rights laws that undergrid our representative democracy and that have made our county better."
Molina added, "Compare them to the map recommended by the Boundary Review Committee. Either [my] or Ridley-Thomas' proposal would best fulfill not just the letter, but the spirit of the Voting Rights Act."
However, Yaroslavsky alleged in his blog, the proposed mapping is "a bald-faced gerrymander that is completely unnecessary."
"The primary objective of redistricting," said Molina, on her website. "Is to ensure every district represents the same amount of people. But this goal cannot legally be accomplished by diluting the strength of minority voters. It's a particularly important requirement since L.A. County has an unfortunate, extensive and documented history of voter discrimination—specifically against Latinos."
"Our new maps simply follow the numbers," said Molina. "By doing so, our new maps honor both the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. If approved either new map will ensure that no minority group's voting power is unfairly enhanced or diluted at the expense of another. Our new maps simply follow the law and the legal precedent."
Ridley-Thomas' proposed map, submitted as the "African-American Coalition Map," moves the eastern San Fernando Valley into the first district, connecting it with downtown Los Angeles and unincorporated East Los Angeles. It also designates the I-605 corridor portion of the San Gabriel Valley as the fourth district.
The map also includes a coastal district that runs from Malibu through Long Beach to Cerritos
Molina's proposed map submitted as the "Voting Rights Compliance Map" is similar to the coalition map, leaving the second and fifth supervisorial districts largely unchanged. It does propose dramatic changes elsewhere. The third district would stretch from the San Fernando Valley jus west of the I-405 through Eagle Rock and downtown Los Angeles as far sough as Lynwood and include communities to the west of he I-710.
Yaroslvasky said, "Both of the proposed maps create two districts in which Latinos would comprise more than half the voting age citizens, instead of one such district now."
The board had appointed a boundary review committee to study proposed changes to the boundaries. The committee is an advisory body to the board and will be responsible for preparing a detailed and comprehensive report with recommended boundary changes, according to county officials.