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Supervisors Divided Over Latino-Majority District

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors holds a marathon public hearing on proposed redistricting boundaries that will continue next month.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' public hearing on proposed redistricting changes lasted more than four hours Tuesday and featured dozens of speakers who spoke glowingly of 4th District Supervisor Don Knabe, while others warned of lawsuits if a second Latino-majority district is not created.

The hearing centered on a proposal brought forth by the county's Boundary Review Committee that was tasked in November 2010 with drawing new lines to reflect population changes found in the 2010 Census.

The county's population grew by 300,000 people to 9.8 million and ideally the five county supervisorial districts would have 1.96 million residents in each district, said Curt Pedersen, chairman of the Boundary Review Committee. The county is the most populous in the country and has a larger population than 42 individual states.

The committee narrowed down its options to two maps and presented the option now known as A-2 to the board for their consideration. The plan largely retains the status quo and moves 150,121 residents into different districts.

An alternative map devised by black and Hispanic interest groups, called S-1, would move 3.4 million residents into different districts and create two Latino-majority districts.

The 10-member BRC, which consisted of two representatives appointed by each supervisor, voted 6-4 to recommend the status quo map over the plan calling for a second Latino-majority district. The BRC representatives for the white supervisors -- Knabe, Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael D. Antonovich -- voted to support the status quo alignment, while the committee members appointed by Latina representative Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is black, voted for the alternative map.

Antonovich’s delegates also rejected the Latino plan in a committee vote.

Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School and redistricting expert, warned the supervisors during a 15-minute presentation that they risked legal action if they did not create two districts in which Latino voters would have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Latinos now make up 48 percent of the county's population and Levitt warned about "packing" them into just one district.

"There's a very real concern here about meeting the obligations of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965," Levitt said.

He noted that the county was sued after its 1980 redistricting due to gerrymandered boundaries that diluted the Latino vote. A federal district court judge in that case (Garza v. County of Los Angeles) also found that the county had engaged in intentional discrimination in redistrictings in 1959, 1965 and 1971.

Molina in February 1991 became the first Latina ever elected to the Board of Supervisors thanks in large part to the Garza decision.

Knabe's 4th District would be dramatically altered under the S-1 option and would become a new Latino-majority district that moves away from the coast and toward the eastern San Gabriel Valley. Yaroslavsky also would see his 3rd District altered, losing the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley to Molina's central district, while picking up the southwestern port of Knabe's district along the Santa Monica Bay to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Knabe also introduced an amendment to the A-2 option that called for moving Silver Lake into Molina's 1st District; uniting Playa del Rey and unincorporated West Whittier into his 4th District; uniting unincorporated Florence/Firestone into Ridley-Thomas' 2nd District and balancing district populations by moving Claremont into the 1st District and by reversing A-2's plans for shifting West Hills.

Knabe's supporters came out in droves to urge the board to keep him in his present district. Current and past elected officials from Knabe's hometown of Cerritos, Avalon, Rolling Hills Estates, Norwalk, Palos Verdes Estates, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo shared stories about how Knabe knew their residents, their interests and has stepped up to help solve problems.

The lone elected dissenters were state Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, who represents Cerritos, Buena Park and others areas in his 56th Assembly District, and Cudahy Mayor Josue Barrios.

"The status quo plan, A-2, does not do anything for San Gabriel Valley cities because the coastal part of the district continues to dominate elections and therefore representation," Mendoza said.

Barrios also said that Latinos need more fair representation.

"We are not here to protect incumbents," Barrios said. "We are here to protect the residents of the community."

A combat veteran who gave Knabe credit for helping him find work, a Spanish-speaking woman from Wilmington and representatives from interest groups that ranged from Cambodians to Native Americans also stood up for Knabe.

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