In the Neighborhood : Pomona: A voting change shifts political power

Compiled by Times researcher CATHERINE GOTTLIEB

More than time separates this 105 year-old city from its origin as one of the region's agricultural centers and, after World War II, a homogeneous middle-class suburb. Ethnic and racial heterogeneity and high doses of smog, congestion, gangs and drug trade have moved Pomona far from its beginnings. While the struggle against urban ills continues, Pomona's political landscape appears to have caught up with its demography.

Pomona's seven-member city council, until recently majority Anglo, now has a Latino majority (including the mayor) and an African-American member. Minorities have made up nearly 50% of the city's population since before 1980 and more than 70% of the population since 1990, but the council for years did not reflect the population. Many residents attribute the council's new Latino presence and ethnic diversity to the 1990 change in Pomona's voting system from citywide to district elections.

FORMER MAYOR DONNA SMITH: City Council member from 1985-87, Mayor from 1987-93, chose not to run for mayor again this year. I opposed district elections, but the people spoke. I think it's lessened representation. There were two major arguments other than minority representation to have district elections. One was that campaigns would be less expensive. That turned out to be true in some but not all elections. The second argument was that there would be better representation for each district. And that isn't really occuring. Ultimately the district system hasn't improved representation for the entire city. COUNCIL MEMBER Willie White: Elected in 1991, first African American to serve on Pomona City Council I was one of the original plaintiffs in the suit filed against the city for district elections. District elections made it possible for me to get elected. With district elections I didn't have to spend quite as much money and I could put my effort into the district, going door-to-door. I think people feel better when they have representation that reflects the population of the community. A person could be Hispanic or Caucasian and understand the needs of a black person. But the question that voters have in their minds is, even if a person can understand their needs does that person have the will to take action on their behalf?

DEMOGRAPHER FLORENCE ADAMS: Assistant director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College (District elections) do help to elect minorities. It doesn't happen in every instance. Look at Pasadena. They drew what was supposed to be a minority district and it was won by a white person. But you provide the opportunity, the framework. Our rule of thumb is that if cities get upwards of 30,000 or 40,000 population, they probably ought to look at a district system if they have large minority populations. Also, some cities have definite communities with different needs and interests, and sometimes those needs or interests are overlooked in at-large systems. District elections aren't just for minority concerns.


1965-1984: City records show that 14 candidates from racial and ethnic minorities sought election to the city council and lost; two Latino candidates sought election and won.

May 1985: Five residents file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Pomona, claiming the city's at-large system violates the 1982 Voting Rights Act.

November 12, 1986: U.S. District Court dismisses lawsuit.

November 1989: The city's mayor and all four council members--including two Latino members (one a plaintiff in the failed lawsuit)--vote to put the issue on the next municipal ballot.

June 1990: Voters adopt measure to revamp at-large system and increase the number of council members from four to six plus the mayor.

April, 1991: After latest, city council has four Latinos, two Anglos and one Black member.


1980 population: 92,742 Population by race and ethnicity: Hispanic: 31% Anglo: 47% Black: 19% Asian and Other: NA

1990 population: 131,723 Population by race and ethnicity: Hispanic: 51% Anglo: 28% Black: 14% Asian: 6% Other: 1%

Note: Numbers do not add up to 100% because "other" and "don't know" categories are not shown.

Source: U.S. Census programming by Times analyst Maureen Lyons

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