Push Continues to Invalidate L.A. County Voting Districts

Dept. of Justice not likely to act before June Primary.

By Paul Aranda, Jr., EGP Staff Writer

Efforts to get the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue voting rights violations against Los Angeles County may not occur in time to impact upcoming primary elections for the Board of Supervisors this summer.

A team of Latino advocates and legal professionals have steadily advocated the U.S. Department of Justice open a voting rights case against the county for failure to create a second supervisor district with a Latino voting population majority. Not much has changed since a series of news reports were published late last year when the Justice Department acknowledged it is reviewing documents received in the voting rights case.

Advocates are calling on the Department of Justice to overturn L.A. County’s redistricting map. (LA County)

Advocates are calling on the Department of Justice to overturn L.A. County’s redistricting map. (LA County)

One of the primary proponents of a potential lawsuit is Alan Clayton, who served 18 years as the executive director of equal employment opportunity of the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association. Clayton has a long history of advocating on behalf of Latinos in the county and has continued to press this issue since his retirement from LACCEA in 2006. A second Latino district is vital to an expanding population with similar issues throughout the county, Clayton said.

“I have been advocating on behalf of Latinos for years on issues such as bicultural county staff and increased public transportation,” Clayton said. “I know how bad it is for Latinos. I am very familiar with what the county doesn’t do.”

Clayton says a second Latino district would lead to more diversity in the ranks of commissioners and department heads that have lead roles in allocating key funding and vital social services for residents. With nearly 10 million residents, Los Angeles County would be the eigth-largest state by population. The Board of Supervisors oversees a $24.7 billion budget. Given the county supervisor’s unique authority as both an executive and legislative authority, Clayton believes federal action is necessary. “This is the largest case in the country,” Clayton told EGP.

Clayton says the case is pretty clear and he would like to see action this year, though he acknowledges its unlikely since the Justice Department is currently involved in several high-profile Voting Rights Act cases in Texas and North Carolina. With all the focus on those cases, there is currently little indication that any action is expected soon in Los Angeles.

An effort to create change on this scale requires a powerful alliance. On board with Clayton pursuing a lawsuit are former MALDEF director Joaquin Avila and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. Avila was the lead attorney on the 1990 Garza Vs. Los Angeles County case that produced the first Latino district in which current supervisor Gloria Molina was elected.

Reynoso, also a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has been involved in the lawsuit for four years and is puzzled as to why no action has been taken.

“The facts are so overwhelming,” Reynoso said. “In my view this is the biggest case.”

He believes a simple letter of intent to sue from the Justice Department would compel the county to take action in order to avoid a costly litigation battle. He added that the county could accept the principle of the letter and agree to act on its own. Under this scenario, the county would be able to redistrict without a federal court case.

Reynoso said he spoke privately with a high-level attorney in the voting rights unit who acknowledged the case but said no authorization from senior leadership has been made. Reynoso doubts that any significant action will occur to impact primary elections in June, when First District Supervisor Gloria Molina and Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky are set to retire due to term limits imposed by voters in 2002.

They support a map, right, proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas. (LA County)

They support a map, right, proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas. (LA County)

Former U.S. Congresswoman and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and El Monte City Councilman Juventino “J” Gomez are running to replace Molina. In the Third District, former state Sen. Sheila Keuhl, West Hollywood Councilman John Duran and former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver are vying for Yaroslavsky’s seat.

Avila, now a University of Seattle law professor, said a judge could decide whether to order a new election if a case is settled after the June elections. Avila, who was part of the Garza legal team, has an extensive history of litigating against the county and was not willing to speculate what a case could mean for the upcoming elections. “No one knows,” Avila said. He did point to new city council elections that were ordered in Palmdale in December 2013.

Avila said the primary difference between the current effort and the 1990 Garza case that overturned the initial primary election is timing. The Garza case was filed a year and a half before the election. With the next elections less than four months away, no such case has been filed.

Every 10 years, Los Angeles County must utilize the latest U.S. Census data to redraw district boundaries to ensure equal representation without discrimination against any minority groups. The 1990 Garza case ruled that the county failed to create a district with a Latino citizen voting population majority. As a result, the First District was redrawn to include a Latino voting population majority and Molina became the first Latina elected to the Board of Supervisors. The case ended decades of election defeats for a seat on the powerful board for Latino candidates.

 

Creating a Second Latino District

Since 1990, two U.S. Census have occurred and figures show the Latino voting population continues to grow yet no significant changes to district boundaries have been made. Challenges were filed following the 2000 U.S. Census, another following the 2010 U.S. Census.

The 2010 census reflected the continued growth of the Latino population in Los Angeles County. Over 48% of the total population in the County is Latino. Yet the current districts largely remain intact from the 1991 map. Unlike state and federal districts, the Board of Supervisors retains the authority to draw its own districts.

There were three districting maps introduced in 2011. One supported by Supervisor Don Knabe, one by Molina and a third map supported by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Both the Molina and Ridley-Thomas maps created a second majority Latino district.

The board ultimately voted to adopt the Knabe-sponsored map by a 4-1 vote. At the time, Ridley-Thomas voted to adopt the Knabe map on the basis that it would trigger a potential civil rights lawsuit. If he had maintained his support for the map he sponsored the Board would have deadlocked and a panel of three elected officials would make the decision, including the then District Attorney Steve Cooley, Assessor John Noguez who is facing corruption charges and recently retired Sheriff Lee Baca whose department is also under federal investigation.

Clayton had submitted his own district map for consideration but has since thrown his support behind the Ridley-Thomas version. “I support it as I always have,” Clayton said. “It’s a good map for Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans.”

Reynoso also supports the Ridley-Thomas map. He said this maps addresses the liability issue of creating a second Latino district that would adversely affect the African-American community. Although Molina has not issued any public statements on reapportionment lately, Reynoso says he believes she would support the Ridley-Thomas map to move the county forward.

According to Clayton’s analysis, the Ridley-Thomas map creates two Latino seats and protects one seat for African Americans. He added there is even a possibility that an Asian-American candidate could become competitive in a redrawn fifth district.

Under this map, the first district would be realigned to connect the Latino communities in the Northeast Valley portion of Los Angeles with the Latino communities in Northeast and Southeast Los Angeles. This district would have a Latino voting population of 53.2%.

A potential second Latino seat would be created with a reorganized fourth district consolidating portions of the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County that have growing Latino populations. A revamped fourth district would group communities along the 605 freeway such as South El Monte, El Monte, Covina to Norwalk and its neighbors in the southeast corridor. This proposed fourth district would have a Latino population of 52%. The proposed second district includes the current districts of Latino elected officials at all levels of government.

Also included in the Ridely-Thomas map is a revamped fifth district that unites Monterey Park and Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley. These communities have large Asian American communities. Clayton says this would create an opening for a conservative Asian-American candidate to become competitive.

For now, the team of advocates will wait patiently for the Justice Department to decide whether it will pursue the case they have laid out.

“This issue is about the importance of the democratic process,” Reynoso said. “This government structure must properly represent the entire county.”

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February 27, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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