A historic court order to redraw Los Angeles County’s supervisorial districts will open up new opportunities for Latinos, including more jobs, commission appointments, private contracts--and a seat on the powerful county board, according to Latino leaders.
But political analysts say a new Latino district may not change the outcome of other issues of importance to Latinos--such as expansion of health and welfare services.
The resolution of such issues, they say, will hinge on whether the redistricting tips the balance of power on the five-member board.
At the very least, Latino leaders say, a Latino-dominated district will bring to the board a new sensitivity for their community’s problems.
“There is a sense of deeper trust with one of your own representing your community,” state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) said.
In interviews with The Times, more than two dozen political leaders and analysts evaluated the impact of the court ruling on the county’s 8 1/2 million residents. Most agreed that a Latino supervisor would pay more attention to the heavily Latino neighborhoods in East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley that are expected to become the core of a new district.
The Latino communities “are not the political base of either Supervisors Ed Edelman or Pete Schabarum, and they tend to get neglected,” said Richard Fajardo, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a plaintiff in the redistricting suit. “Those (Latino) areas will be the meat of the new district. Services will be delivered in a new way.”
Fajardo said he also expects that Latino-owned companies, which now receive no special consideration, will receive a larger share of the hundreds of millions of dollars a year in county contracts. “I think that will be one of the first things that happens,” he said.
U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon ruled last week that the five Anglo supervisors intentionally discriminated against Latinos in drawing their district boundaries in 1981. He gave them until June 27 to draft a new plan, which would enhance the chances of the first Latino being elected to the board.
The board, which has voted to appeal, will meet behind closed doors today to discuss the case, which has cost the county $4 million. They will also vote on whether to place a measure on the November ballot expanding the board to seven or nine members.
The ruling could void last Tuesday’s elections in two districts, alter representation for many residents and jeopardize the political security of incumbents. It could end a decade of conservative control of the board.
Latino leaders have complained that the board has not met growing demand for health and welfare programs that serve Latinos. County funding for health care declined from 17% of the budget in 1980-81 to 10% in this fiscal year, while funding for the Sheriff’s Department increased from 18% of the budget to 27%, officials said.
“The county has simply not been receptive to the needs of the Latino community,” said attorney Richard Amador, who helped MALDEF with the suit.
“That’s nonsense,” Edelman responded. “I’ve done as much as any elected official for East Los Angeles.”
Edelman said that as supervisor he has funded health clinics and recreational facilities that serve Latino neighborhoods and appointed the first Latino to the Civil Service Commission.
Supervisor Deane Dana, who represents a coastal district, said a Latino supervisor will have “no effect at all” on county services. “We provide services not on the basis of race or color, but by need,” he said.
But Dana acknowledged that the election of a Latino could result in more Latino appointments to boards and commissions.
Schabarum was unavailable for comment. But his spokeswoman, Judy Hammond, said that Schabarum, who is retiring, equally represents all his constituents. “We have three Hispanic deputies,” she added. “If there are any problems in the Hispanic community, they would make the supervisor aware of them.”
Bruce Cain, associate director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, said: “It is . . . wrong to say that having a Latino will necessarily mean all kinds of new programs.
“It depends on what happens to the overall composition of the board,” said Cain, who served as consultant to the city of Los Angeles before it settled a similar voting-rights lawsuit. “If you have a Latino in the minority, as opposed to a liberal white, it wouldn’t make any difference” in the outcome of votes.
For example, the Latino community opposed construction of more jails in heavily Latino areas near downtown Los Angeles. But the supervisors voted 4 to 1 for jail expansion plans there, with Edelman siding with his Latino constituents.
The board has split along ideological lines when voting on other issues of importance to Latinos. The supervisors voted to eliminate bilingual election materials and to fight a court order requiring health and welfare workers to register poor and minority residents to vote. The conservative majority has also blocked a proposal to expand the board.
Cain said a supervisor, whether Latino or not, will be more responsive to Latino community needs if Latinos are consolidated in a single district, rather than fragmented.
“Whoever gets elected from that district suddenly has a bloc of Latino votes that you have to pay attention to,” he said.
Raul Nunez, president of the 2,000-member Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Assn., said he expects redistricting to open up more county jobs for Latinos.
Latinos account for a third of the county’s population but make up less than 20% of county government’s 69,000 full-time employees and about 11% of the managers, according to the county Affirmative Action Compliance Office. Four of the county’s 36 department heads are Latino.
Nunez said he also hopes that a Latino supervisor would promote the awarding of county contracts to Latino businesses. Unlike the city and state, the county has no program to award a percentage of contracts to minority-owned firms.
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who is interested in running for supervisor, said a Latino supervisor would elevate certain issues, especially health care and welfare.
“You saw it here in the city of Los Angeles with the presence of myself and (Councilwoman) Gloria Molina,” he said. “Issues that were not historically articulated on the council floor are now being done so.”
Sarah Flores, a longtime aide to Schabarum and the front-runner in last week’s primary election in the 1st District, said: “I think the Latino community has not been properly served. It’s a reality we have to face.”
Flores said the county needs to devote more resources to Latino employment, foster care for Latino children and economic development, including expanded opportunities for minority contractors.
Richard Martinez, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, anticipates that the election of a Latino will increase the accountability of the Sheriff’s Department, which has been the subject of excessive-force complaints from the Latino community. “There has been no way for the Latino community to seek redress,” he said.
Al Avila, a City Council aide who has worked at City Hall before and after the council had Latino members, said the election of his current boss, Alatorre, allowed the council to look at issues from a new, Latino perspective.
“I remember when there was a proposal on how may people could live in a house,” Avila said. “If you’re Hispanic, right away you think family orientation and bigger families than the average. What seemed like a simple building and safety issue turned into bigger social issues because we were paying attention to how Hispanics would be impacted.”
Molina said that she expects more Latinos to win appointments to nearly 100 county commissions, as they did at City Hall after she and Alatorre joined the 15-member City Council. She expects the county to toughen its affirmative action goals.
“It’s not automatic,” Molina said. “You just don’t legislate it. . . . You have to generate a dialogue, get attention and keep hammering.”