Explosive population growth in Southern California could give Latinos a potential voting majority in four new congressional districts, three in the state Senate and seven in the state Assembly, representatives of Latino organizations told a legislative committee Saturday.
Asian-Pacific American groups also argued for a bigger role in California government on the basis of a 119% increase in population in Los Angeles County during the 1980s, to 955,000.
Councilwoman Judy Chu of Monterey Park said that Asian-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley are fragmented into two county supervisorial districts, four Assembly districts, two Senate districts and two congressional districts, making it impossible for Asian-Americans to get elected.
"Despite the fact that our numbers have changed the face of the neighborhoods, despite the fact that Asian businesses have revitalized many of these communities and despite the impact that Asians have had on local educational institutions, Asians are limited from wielding influence in the political process," Chu said.
Seven senators attended one of a series of hearings by the Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee before it redraws district lines for seats in the Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives to reflect changes in population between 1980 and 1990. Drafting of reapportionment maps begins in July.
Saturday's hearing focused on population shifts in Los Angeles' Eastside and the San Gabriel Valley. The committee will return March 28 to hear comments about proposed district lines in heavily black areas of central and South-Central Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley. With population growth of only 5%, blacks face a possible loss of seats.
Testimony indicated the problems facing the Legislature in drawing new lines, particularly if the Democratic leadership seeks to maintain party control by crafting as many districts as possible with Democratic majorities. Lawmakers have done that partly through placing concentrations of loyal-voting minority groups into separate districts.
The U.S. Voting Rights Act now makes it easier to challenge reapportionment plans. Before, the law required evidence that the drafters intended to discriminate against minority groups. Now, the law requires only that it be demonstrated that the plans discriminate.
Richard Farjado of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund told the committee: "When possible and to the extent possible, it's important to consolidate communities and let them have the representation they deserve."
The estimates of new Latino districts came from Leo Estrada, a demographer who said that the Latino population in Los Angeles County grew 62% during the 1980s, to 3.6 million. Also, Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente) said that three of the seven new House seats California will get next year should be Latino. The House delegation will grow from 45 to 52.
Another problem for lawmakers will be to draw compact districts that do not cross city and county boundaries. Mayor Chris Lancaster of Covina objected to having the city split between two Senate districts, one that extends up the eastern Sierra to Mammoth Lakes.
"It's a six-hour trip," he said. "What in the world is the community interest between those areas?"
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said there are only three ways to give lightly populated Inyo and Mono counties representation: tie them to Los Angeles County, link them with the San Joaquin Valley by leaping over the High Sierra, or attaching them to Nevada, "which probably makes the most sense."
Farjado said that communities of interest, such as racial and ethnic composition, should be given priority over political boundaries.