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City Remap Plan in Doubt After Council Dissent : Redistricting: Compromise on lawsuit over political boundaries may be headed for failure now that three council members fear proposal may lead to racial strife.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A compromise settlement to the long-running San Diego City Council redistricting dispute over Latino voting rights teetered near collapse Thursday after three council members said new proposed boundaries in the South Bay could lead to racial strife.

The reversal came one day after the parties in the class-action suit filed by the Chicano Federation of San Diego County Inc. appeared on the verge of settling the 1988 lawsuit, which has had more twists and turns than a carnival fun house.

If the proposed settlement is formally rejected--the City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan in closed session Tuesday--preparations for what all sides say will be a long and expensive trial will move forward. The first step in that direction began late Wednesday afternoon.

Subpoenas from Chicano Federation lawyers were to be issued to five council members and their staffs for production of various redistricting documents and appearances at sworn interrogations.

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The first such deposition is scheduled for next Wednesday morning, and the first witness is to be the secretary for Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt. By order of the court, the depositions will be conducted in public.

Bernhardt is part of a five-member majority bloc that last week gave final approval to a redistricting map following weeks of bitter debate. The Chicano Federation opposed the map, which made the critical 8th District, stretching from downtown to San Ysidro, 51.9% Latino.

Among several objections, including the contention that the proposed new district unconstitutionally dilutes Latino voting rights and violates the terms of a previous settlement, the federation claims the five-member bloc met in private and agreed to endorse the map without any involvement from the public or the federation.

One member of the bloc is Bob Filner, who represents the 8th District.

Earlier this week, Chicano Federation attorney Michael Aguirre made a new proposal that called for changing district boundaries yet again to give District 8 nearly a 55% Latino population.

To accomplish that, two precincts totaling about 8,000 combined residents in the South Bay community of Nestor, the majority of them white, were transferred from the 8th District and placed in District 2, which is composed mainly of Point Loma and Mission Hills.

To make the connection, the federation drew a line down San Diego Bay.

After weeks of acrimonious rhetoric, charges and countercharges, lawyers in the dispute Tuesday and Wednesday deliberately toned down their talk and said an accord was near, pending resolution of how much the city would pay Aguirre for his legal work on the federation’s behalf.

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The first indication things were amiss again occurred during a hearing before U.S. District Judge John Rhoades on Thursday afternoon. The hearing--attended by six lawyers representing the city and various individual council members--was supposed to be a routine review of where settlement negotiations stood with U.S. Magistrate Harry McCue, who is handling the compromise discussions.

“None of us seem to be happy . . . so (that must mean) we’re very close to settlement,” Aguirre said. He told Rhoades that a settlement agreement would be presented in McCue’s chambers later in the afternoon.

Senior Chief Deputy City Atty. Jack Katz said the proposed settlement will be taken to the City Council for a vote Tuesday.

But then attorney David Lundin, representing 8th District Filner, Bernhardt and Councilman John Hartley, spoke and said his clients didn’t like the idea of dividing Nestor along “harsh racial lines,” with Latinos on one side and whites on the other “going to Point Loma and Mission Hills.”

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He told the judge he couldn’t say whether his clients would approve the proposed settlement. Later in the day, after the compromise settlement appeared scuttled, Lundin told reporters that Filner, Hartley and Bernhardt will reject the plan Tuesday.

Rhoades, who said he will leave in the middle of next week for a temporary assignment in another judicial district, responded by saying that “gerrymandering is American as apple pie” and that it is not wrong unless it violates the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act or some other law.

“I can’t (and) won’t participate in where the lines are drawn,” the judge said. “Where the lines go is a legislative decision, not a judicial decision.”

The attorney representing Councilman Bruce Henderson, who is not a member of the majority bloc, told the judge that other council members will disagree with the proposed settlement and that “very likely” it will not be approved.

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The attorney, Pat McCormick, said the proposed map “creates havoc with the rest of the city.” He has vowed to file a lawsuit contesting the City Council majority’s redistricting plans.

Another lawyer, representing Council Members Ron Roberts and Judy McCarty, said his clients had not participated in drafting the proposed new map and had not seen it.

At the end of the hearing, the attorneys hastily beat a path to McCue’s chambers. Meanwhile, Filner, who attending the hearing, told reporters the proposed dividing of Nestor contains “the seeds” of potential racial strife and would be “extremely harmful to this city.”

“The biggest problem is drawing a line across the South Bay . . . that says a side is Hispanic and (the other) one Anglo.”

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“I’m not going to support it. . . . I don’t think the gain outweighs the loss.”

He said his office was flooded with calls Thursday from Nestor residents upset about the possibility of being divided and placed in a district they are neither geographically nor politically aligned with.

“We’ve been completely misled by negotiations at this point,” Aguirre said afterward. “Yesterday we were down to legal fees. Today it’s a whole new ball game.”

“The council completely misled us,” he said. “We think . . . the Latino community’s best chance is with the integrity of Judge Rhoades . . . making decisions.”

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Jess Haro, head of the Chicano Federation, said it was hypocritical and duplicitous of Filner to oppose the proposed compromise because of the potential racial strife it might engender.

“He’s only concerned about his own selfish reelection,” Haro said. “He is the impediment, the biggest impediment to the Latino community’s (effort) to redress 40 years of municipal history.”

Haro said that “Filner wants to keep the whites (in Nestor) because that improves his chances for reelection.”

Later, in an interview with reporters in his office, lawyer Lundin said his three City Council clients always had some problems with the proposed settlement map.

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Lundin said he told Filner, Bernhardt and Hartley on Wednesday--when a compromise appeared at hand--to “think about it overnight.” On Thursday morning, the three told Lundin they wouldn’t support the compromise because of the splitting of Nestor.

Lundin said he and his clients have prepared yet another map that increases the Latino population in the 8th District without dividing the South Bay.

The proposal, he said, would place the Latino population between the 51.9% approved last week by the council majority and the nearly 55% Aguirre said is contained in his proposal.

Lundin said he and Aguirre were supposed to talk about the new map Thursday afternoon, but that because of the developments in the courtroom, they never met. Lundin said he will attempt to talk to Aguirre about the new map.

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