A redistricting plan that would force Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum to run in a new, predominantly Latino district is privately being reviewed by the Board of Supervisors as a possible settlement to a federal lawsuit.
The plan would radically change the political representation for hundreds of thousands of county residents.
It is the first realignment of district boundaries prepared by the county's political consultant since supervisors last week voted to explore a settlement of a federal redistricting lawsuit. The trial has been postponed indefinitely to allow settlement talks.
The U.S. Justice Department and two civil rights groups last year filed suit accusing the all-white board of drawing its districts in such a way as to weaken the political clout of the county's 2 million Latinos. The suit contends that the board split up Latino neighborhoods among three districts in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Attorneys for both sides met privately in U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon's chambers Tuesday, but afterward refused comment on the status of negotiations. Diane Palmiotti, a spokeswoman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the new county map was not distributed or referred to at the meeting. Another meeting was set for next week.
Schabarum said he had not seen the newly proposed redistricting plan and would not comment on it. He said he has not decided whether to seek reelection in June.
Asked if being placed in a Latino majority district poses political problems, Schabarum said, "Not if you do your job . . . being a Hispanic such as I am anyway."
A Schabarum aide said the supervisor's grandfather was a German miner who married a Mexican woman. Schabarum was born in Los Angeles.
Under the proposal, Schabarum would keep some of his political base in the San Gabriel Valley, helping his chances of holding onto his seat, if he decides to run.
The map presented to supervisors this week was drawn by Joe Shumate, a political consultant hired by the county.
According to a memo sent to the supervisors by County Counsel DeWitt Clinton, the map represents an "updated analysis" of a plan "previously furnished and reviewed by several board offices."
Shumate said the map is new and not a simple revision of a map he prepared for the supervisors when he was hired as a consultant in 1981. Shumate said he would not comment further on the new map under orders from the county's attorneys.
"I think the majority of the board might go for it," said Mas Fukai, chief deputy to Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, pointing out that the plan provides political security for a majority of board members.
Clinton's memo said the map was prepared at the request of Supervisors Deane Dana and Ed Edelman to facilitate discussions "which could lead to a potential compromise" in the dispute.
Dana's willingness to work with his ideological opposite Edelman is a strong sign that a settlement might be in the offing. Only three votes are required for approval of a settlement. Dana already has broken ranks with his conservative colleagues in supporting settlement talks.
Dana and Edelman refused to comment on the new map.
Tom Silver, an aide to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said the board is "at a very preliminary stage. We will be looking at several different configurations" of new district boundaries before the process is completed.
But one source close to the negotiations said the supervisors do not have long to develop a plan.
One board source said Clinton told the supervisors that they have only another week or two to submit a plan to the judge, or the Justice Department will drop efforts to negotiate a settlement and proceed with the trial.
Under the plan now being circulated among supervisors, Schabarum would be placed in a predominantly Latino district extending from East Los Angeles to growing immigrant neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley.
"He's the sacrificial lamb," said one Latino political adviser familiar with the redistricting fight. "Schabarum is the one who is expendable to both sides" of the board, he said, pointing out that Schabarum's combative ways have cost him support even among his conservative colleagues.
A MALDEF spokeswoman declined to offer an opinion on Schabarum's claim to be of Latino descent. "The issue is that Hispanics have good representation, and we would not see Schabarum as someone representative of the Hispanic community," the spokeswoman said.
Under the proposal, Edelman, though losing East Los Angeles from his existing 3rd District, would retain his Westside political base while picking up Malibu and a bigger part of the San Fernando Valley.
Antonovich and Dana would still represent conservative-voting districts.
Hahn's heavily black South-Central Los Angeles district would be largely unchanged.
All the supervisors, except for Schabarum, will be "pretty safe," said Silver, adding that the plan makes Antonovich "even safer." Antonovich's 5th District would become even more heavily Republican under the latest Shumate map.
"For purposes of comparison," Clinton also provided supervisors with an alternative redistricting plan prepared by the Justice Department. That plan, made public last month, would carve out a new, predominantly Latino district by moving Edelman's district east of the Harbor Freeway, costing the supervisor his Westside base of political support.
The lawsuit against the county is similar to one filed by the Justice Department against Los Angeles in 1985. In order to settle that lawsuit, the City Council redrew its district lines to create a new Latino district, and two Latinos presently serve on the 15-member council.