In yet another last-minute effort to resolve a bitter redistricting dispute, lawyers for the City Council and the Chicano Federation said Tuesday that they expect to settle the case today.
The word of an impending settlement was the cap to a daylong flurry of activity in which a compromise settlement was at one point off, then on, then off again, and finally on.
Looming over the political and legal maneuvering was the specter of sworn depositions of former workers, current employees and members of the five-member council majority that had approved a redistricting map the Chicano Federation claimed would not sufficiently increase Latino voting strength in the city's 8th District, which stretches from downtown to the South Bay.
Public depositions that were to begin this morning now won't--at least not until U.S. District Judge John Rhoades orders them to go forward, which he could do as early as noon if he is not satisfied that a settlement has been reached.
If things go smoothly, the City Council will call a special closed-door meeting for 9:30 a.m. Thursday to formally vote on the compromise solution.
As described by attorneys involved, the proposed settlement calls for adoption of a redistricting map that mainly changes Districts 2 and 8, giving District 8 a Latino makeup of about 53.8%.
In addition, the proposal, among other things, includes agreements covering aspects such as legal fees and how tabulations from the current federal census will be accommodated in the future. According to sources familiar with the proposed settlement, Michael Aguirre, lawyer for the Chicano Federation, would be paid as much as $150,000 in legal fees by the city.
The map under discussion is very similar to one proposed last week by the Chicano Federation, which two years ago filed a class-action voting rights lawsuit against the council in an attempt to force the creation of a district in which a Latino would have a likely chance of being elected.
The new proposed district would take the Nestor area from the South Bay and connect it to District 2 by way of a line down San Diego Bay. The Nestor neighborhood encompasses about 8,000 people, most of them Anglo. They would be linked politically to District 2, another largely Anglo area composed mainly of Point Loma and Mission Hills. District 2 is represented by Councilman Ron Roberts.
Last week, the splitting away of Nestor from the South Bay was opposed by three council members--including District 8 Councilman Bob Filner--who said such a neighborhood division had the potential to create racial strife. That was one of the main reasons the proposal was rejected after it initially received approval from the council members.
Ironically, the same three council members--Filner, Linda Bernhardt and John Hartley--said Tuesday they now will support the plan for a Nestor-less District 8.
Filner said he still isn't happy with what happened with Nestor, but said it is not worth delaying a settlement of the lawsuit. "It's not a good policy decision . . . (but) you have to do trade-offs to get the city back to business," he said. " . . . We only did this because we thought it would end this thing."
As for possible racial strife, Filner said he and others will have to work with the South Bay communities to make sure such violence is not a consequence of redistricting.
Although Filner and his colleagues bemoaned the loss of Nestor, Aguirre said he and the federation have given up their claim to have a small but important bayside precinct kept in Roberts' District 2. The precinct has only about 1,000 people--in a district with a population of about 127,000--but it includes the Convention Center, Seaport Village, Santa Fe railroad property and other blocks undergoing intense development.
Aguirre said he is sorry that, under the proposed settlement, Roberts won't get that waterfront area, and that he is to blame for its being retained in District 8.
"Ron Roberts has been very good to us . . . without him, we wouldn't be where we are," Aguirre said, but added that the Chicano Federation would be "hard-pressed" to hold up an agreement so Roberts could keep the waterfront.
"I'm disappointed that, having supported (Aguirre) . . . he would be willing to drop that at such a crucial time," Roberts said.
Roberts said he wanted the depositions to occur so there would be answers about whether some members of the majority bloc that approved the disputed redistricting map had met illegally in secret to craft the plan.
"The one thing that's become increasingly clear," he said, is that, as the deadline for depositions neared, members of the majority bloc were willing to compromise.
The day began Tuesday with no settlement in sight, as the council met in closed session to vote on a redistricting map nearly identical to what is expected to be agreed on today. The council voted 5 to 3 for the map, with Roberts, Mayor Maureen O'Connor and Councilwoman Judy McCarty in opposition. Councilman Bruce Henderson left the meeting and did not vote.
Thinking a settlement was at hand, city attorneys and David Lundin, the lawyer for Filner, Hartley and Bernhardt, then appeared before Judge Rhoades in the afternoon. But Darlene Rohr, representing Aguirre, who was in Los Angeles, told the judge that the proposal was "vastly" different than the one Aguirre had put forth last week, and that the parties were not near a settlement.
Rhoades, saying the case had become a "political and constitutional roller coaster," then ordered depositions to begin this morning.
Lundin fumed after the hearing. "This is a cheap political . . . contest engaged in by Mr. Aguirre and a minority of the City Council," he said.
About an hour later, Aguirre and Lundin talked on the phone, and the elements of the newest compromise came into focus. Judge Rhoades--who held a conference call with Lundin, Aguirre and Senior Chief Deputy City Atty. Jack Katz--was asked to convene a hearing early Tuesday night to accept the settlement.
But the hearing was called off as the two sides continued to debate nuances of the agreement. The judge directed Lundin and Aguirre to talk further and draft a settlement agreement.
Aguirre said he expects a settlement to be reached and will deliver to Lundin this morning a written agreement. Lundin and the city attorney will review the proposal, then hold a telephone conference call with Rhoades, who today starts a temporary stint on the federal bench in Montana.