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Redistricting Vote Boosts Latino Influence in Valley

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday approved and sent to Mayor Tom Bradley a plan that radically changes council district lines in the East San Fernando Valley to increase the political influence of Latinos.

The redistricting plan was given final approval on a 10-3 vote over strong opposition from 500 valley residents who packed the council chamber. Many of them chartered buses for the trip downtown.

Bradley on Wednesday declined to state his position on this latest of three redistricting plans that have received council approval since the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city over redistricting in November. “Why don’t we wait until they finish their work?” he said before the vote.

He has been urged by his valley deputy, Dodo Meyer, to veto the plan. If he does, 10 council votes will be required to approve the plan over his objections.

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After the vote, Council President Pat Russell said she had no indication whether Bradley will veto the plan. She said there appear to be enough votes to enact the plan even if the mayor objects.

“With the number of votes and the tenor of the discussion, I would assume that yes, there will be enough to override (a veto),” she said. Supporters of the plan picked up another vote Wednesday when Councilman Robert Farrell, who opposed the plan on a preliminary roll call last week, changed his vote. Farrell refused to explain why.

Council members Ernani Bernardi, Joel Wachs and Joy Picus cast the dissenting votes in Wednesday’s balloting.

Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who also supported the plan a week ago, was absent for Wednesday’s vote.

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Wachs, a leading opponent of the plan, said he met with Bradley earlier this week and, although the mayor made no commitment, Wachs said he was “optimistic” about a veto. Wachs said that although the plan was approved by 10 votes--the minimum needed to override a veto by the mayor--Bradley has “a lot of influence with a lot of council members.”

Wachs and Bernardi are dislocated the most by the plan, which would move them out of areas where they have enjoyed strong political support and into largely new districts.

Averting a Clash

The plan takes advantage of the vacancy created by the death of Councilman Howard Finn to avert a clash between Councilmen John Ferraro and Michael Woo. Ferraro and Woo found themselves in the same Hollywood-Wilshire district when the council on July 31 created a heavily Latino district west of downtown.

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The redistricting has been in response to a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit alleging council district lines split up Latino neighborhoods--and diluted Latino political strength--among several council districts in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The latest plan, drawn up by Ferraro and Woo, also would create a new Latino district. But, of more concern to valley residents, it also would eliminate the Northeast Valley’s 1st District, which Finn represented, and parcel out that territory to Bernardi and Wachs. Parts of Wachs’ district would be assigned to Ferraro and Woo, who would go back to representing separate districts.

The new Latino district would be located west of downtown and become the new 1st District.

That would allow for an election there early next year, removing the last obstacle to settlement of the Justice Department lawsuit. Among those considering running in the new Latino district are school board member Larry Gonzalez and Planning Commission President Dan Garcia.

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Alatorre Viewpoint

In Wednesday’s debate, Councilman Richard Alatorre, the only Latino on the 15-member council, said the plan would correct an injustice that has prevented Latinos from influencing the political process.

“All the way back in history, Hispanics have always lost in the process, and it took the Justice Department to file the lawsuit to try to rectify a prior injustice,” Alatorre said. “That’s what this plan attempts to do, to consolidate the voting strength of a community that has been fractured historically, and it tries to bring them together so they can have an influence in the process.”

Wachs, however, said, “This isn’t a civil rights issue.”

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“We already have a plan which satisfies the Voting Rights Act,” he said, referring to the plan approved by the council July 31. He said the new plan is strictly intended to “serve the political interests” of Ferraro and Woo at the expense of the valley.

Matter of Punishment

Bernardi said he does not object to his new district, which takes in areas he has previously represented in his 25 years on the council.

However, he accused the council of using redistricting to punish Wachs, who angered a number of council members by changing his vote on an earlier plan approved by the council but which was later vetoed by the mayor.

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“I don’t think government should be run by vindictiveness,” Bernardi protested.

Councilman Hal Bernson, a supporter of the plan, offered little sympathy for Wachs.

Bernson, without mentioning Wachs by name, said the council “wouldn’t be in the dilemma we’re in today (had) one of the members who’s now affected been willing to go along with that plan.” He referred to the manner in which Wachs surprisingly withdrew support from an earlier plan.

Diminished Influence

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Picus, who joined Bernardi and Wachs in opposing the plan, argued that it would weaken the San Fernando Valley’s influence at City Hall.

“I really believe that if your base is in the city, the few census tracts you have in the valley really don’t enable you to reflect the deep-down basic feelings of the people in the valley.”

Bernson, a valley councilmen who supported the plan, responded: “You can say what you want about people not representing the valley if they have a majority of their district outside the valley.” But, he pointed out that Wachs and Councilman Marvin Braude have represented districts which took in parts of the valley and, “I saw both of them fight for the valley.”

Councilman Woo, an architect of the plan who would find his Hollywood-based district extended into the Sherman Oaks-Studio City area now represented by Wachs, argued that the the plan would increase the valley’s political influence because it would put a majority of the council districts entirely or partially in the valley.

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Previously, four council districts were entirely in the valley and parts of two others extended there. Under the latest plan, four districts are still entirely in the valley--although only four council members will still live there. Five lived in the valley until Finn’s death on Aug. 12. Another four districts would be partly in the valley.

Emotional Session

Wednesday’s vote came after an emotional 4 1/2-hour meeting that pitted Latino activists who supported the plan against other valley residents who opposed it.

Many valley residents complained the plan would assign them council members whom they did not elect and who are not familiar with problems in their community.

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“We do not like being assigned new councilmen without being allowed the opportunity to vote,” said Dennis Thomann of Van Nuys. “It just doesn’t seem it’s the American way.”

“Please do not solve your redistricting problems at the expense of us losing our home rule,” said Bob Ronka, a former councilman from the part of the valley most affected by the plan.

Members of the valley Latino community spoke favorably of the plan, which presents an opportunity to elect the first Latino to the council from the valley and possibly the third citywide.

“The Latino community’s time has come,” said Nelda Barrett, a representative of the valley chapter of the Mexican American Political Assn. She said the plan would “make possible representation for those who have not had a voice in their government.”

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The latest remapping would establish a new valley district with a Latino population of at least 44%, represented by Bernardi.


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