Lawmakers Gird to Defend Turf in Redistricting Battles : Reapportionment: Population changes will reshape state and federal districts. The area’s comparatively sluggish growth may force legislators to add--or lose--key territory.
State Sen. Diane Watson wants El Segundo.
Looking to include more residents in her district as part of a realignment of legislative boundaries, the Los Angeles Democrat says El Segundo is one of several cities she wants added to her political turf.
“I have to pick up 80,000 more people,” Watson says. “We’re in a bind.”
The prospect doesn’t thrill state Sen. Robert G. Beverly, the Manhattan Beach Republican now representing El Segundo. Beverly needs 124,000 residents added to his district--over 40,000 more than Watson.
“I would prefer to have El Segundo stay in my district,” he says. “I’ve represented it for 20-plus years.”
Such potential turf wars loom as incumbents prepare for reapportionment, a politically volatile process in which state lawmakers redraw state and federal legislative boundaries each decade to account for population shifts. That process will begin in earnest Monday, when the state Legislature is scheduled to reconvene.
In the South Bay, the political pressures are expected to be acute. Compared to other parts of the state, population growth here has been sluggish. That means some South Bay districts will have to be enlarged or--in what would be the worst-case scenario for some officeholders--absorbed by others so that California’s Assembly, senatorial and congressional districts wind up with the required number of residents.
Making those changes will not be easy. Not only are there the demands of incumbents to consider. There are also the goals of tailoring districts to natural constituencies--such as coastal dwellers or inland industrial communities--and avoiding the fragmentation of minority voting blocs. Indeed, under federal law, legislators must make a special effort to put enough minorities in a district so they can elect their own representative.
With that mandate in mind, leaders of the local Asian and Pacific Islander communities plan to press for the creation of an Assembly district that will improve their constituents’ political clout.
“We’re not saying we have to have a district where an Asian or Pacific Islander is automatically elected,” said Warren Furutani, an Asian-American from Gardena who serves on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Trustees. “What we’re saying is we want a district where we have a chance.”
The Legislature’s first order of business is to ensure that legislative districts contain an equal number of residents so that political representation is distributed evenly across the population.
Using data from the 1990 Census, state officials have determined that Assembly districts must have 372,000 residents, or 26% more than in the 1980s. State Senate districts will need 744,000, or 25% more, and congressional districts will need 572,000, or 9% more.
Congressional districts do not have to grow as much because seven more of them will be carved out in California to reflect overall population growth, bringing the total to 52. By contrast, the number of state Senate and Assembly seats remains fixed by state law at 40 and 80, respectively.
In the South Bay, the need to beef up the number of residents in a fixed number of state legislative districts could mean a major shifting of political boundaries. A variety of political considerations will come into play as those changes are made.
Beverly, for instance, will probably not see his coastal territory extended far inland, because the Democrat-controlled Legislature would not want to dilute the largely Democratic vote to the east. That means his district will probably be pushed significantly farther north or south.
“I’m told there are two things that can happen,” Beverly says. “One is the district can be extended north to Westchester and part of Venice and remain in Los Angeles County. The other proposal being discussed is extending the district into Orange County.”
Another consideration for state lawmakers is drawing districts that reflect what experts call “communities of interest"--relatively compact areas with common government service needs.
Such a goal could be invoked to reshape Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s congressional district, which meanders from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Orange County cities including Westminster and Huntington Beach.
Rohrabacher says he may be left with a more compact, majority-Republican district contained entirely in either Los Angeles or Orange County. Either one, he says, would be an improvement.
“People in Orange County don’t care what’s going on in L.A. County, and the people in L.A. County don’t care what’s going on in Orange County,” Rohrabacher says. “And the district is very difficult to cover, getting from one end to the other. A more compact district would be better.”
Perhaps the most important consideration for state lawmakers is ensuring that their reapportionment plan meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The federal law is aimed at ensuring minorities equal access to the political process and has been used to kill legislative districting plans that fragment minority voting power.
In the South Bay, the incumbent who could feel the effects of the minority voting issue the most is Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson), whose Assembly district includes Carson, Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Harbor Gateway, Harbor City and North Redondo Beach.
To Floyd’s north, the heavily minority district of Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood) is in need of more than 46,000 residents and may have to be extended south to remain intact.
Meanwhile, the local Asian and Pacific Islander leaders are drafting a plan for an Assembly district that would link the Carson and Gardena portions of Floyd’s turf with other communities that have large numbers of Asians and Pacific Islanders.
The group says the Assembly districts of Floyd, Dave Elder (D-San Pedro) and Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) unfairly dilute the South Bay’s Asian and Pacific Islander vote by slicing it into three pieces. Called Asian/Pacific Islander Committee for Fair Reapportionment, the group says its proposal will mesh with the redistricting plans of black and Latino leaders.
Floyd angrily dismisses such proposals. Minority organizers are falsely claiming unfair representation to oust him from office, he asserts, pointing out that more than half of his district’s residents are minorities.
“The Asian group is just looking to replace me,” Floyd says. “Playing these games is not conducive to a better world. My answer to them is, ‘Come try and get me.’ ”
Furutani says Floyd has it wrong.
“This is nothing personal with Dick Floyd,” he says. “It just happens to be the way the demographics work out. The issue is representation.”
The Districts That Come Up Short
As state and federal legislative districts are redrawn to account for population changes, several districts in the relatively slow-growing South Bay will have to be expanded so they wind up with the required number of residents. The following are the South Bay congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts that need the biggest population boosts.
CONGRESS District: 42 Description: The Palos Verdes Peninsula, Lomita and parts of Torrance linked by a narrow coastal strip to portions of northern Orange County. Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) Population: 548,316 Target: 572,308 Shortfall: 23,992
District: 29 Description: Coastal communities from El Segundo to Orange County line. Incumbent: Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) Population: 619,360 Target: 744,000 Shortfall: 124,640
District: 51 Description: The Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Beach Cities, Torrance, Lomita and part of San Pedro Incumbent: Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) Population: 302,702 Target: 372,000 Shortfall: 69,298