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Hundreds turn out for supervisors' debate over Latino district

September 27, 2011 |  1:38 pm

At the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday

A contentious day is unfolding at Tuesday's Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, where a fight over redrawing voting districts has boiled into arguments over whether leaders should largely preserve current boundaries or provide greater representation for a growing Latino population.

The largest crowd of spectators in decades showed up, forcing staff to equip three overflow rooms at the county's downtown Los Angeles Hall of Administration, set up lawn seating and even more chairs at the nearby Hall of Records. After 11 a.m., about 945 people had been counted and at least 800 had signed up to testify.

Supervisor Don Knabe, a white Republican from Cerritos, is fighting to preserve his district and retain his chances for reelection in 2012. Meanwhile, Supervisor Gloria Molina, the first elected Latino supervisor in modern history, is staking her legacy on forcing the creation of a second board district with a majority Latino voting population.

Molina has argued that the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects racial and ethnic minorities, requires the county to create a second Latino-majority district because preserving the current lines illegally dilutes the voting power of Latinos. She says the county will probably be sued if supervisors largely retain the current boundaries.

Tensions were running high. After one elected official spoke against Molina's plan, Molina left her seat and approached the elected official in the audience, and said most of the time they agreed on issues, but then said, "Don't be so disrespectful." Supporters of Molina waved signs in the crowd that read, "Follow the numbers. Follow the law." Supporters of the status quo clapped when their speakers spoke.

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor, and Councilman Ed Reyes also came to the meeting to voice their support for a second Latino-majority district.

Garcetti, who is half-Mexican and half-Jewish, recalled a story his grandfather told him about how Latinos, blacks and Jews once weren't allowed in city swimming pools. "We have before us a chance to make history," Garcetti said. "We need in this city and in this county to make sure that we have representation that mirrors what our city is like and what our county is like."

Reyes remembered the time before a Latino district was created on the City Council representing Northeast L.A., which is heavily Latino. "At that time our parks were being used as a maintenance yard .... Housing was dilapidated.

"Now," he said, "our parks are being used for the families. We have affordable housing. Community services."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is black, is backing Molina and has raised the civil rights marches of the 1960s in urging support of a second Latino-majority district. Zev Yaroslavsky, meanwhile, a white supervisor from the Westside who is considering a bid for Los Angeles mayor, has blasted Ridley-Thomas' and Molina's plans as a "baldfaced" gerrymander not required by federal law.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, a Republican from Glendale, hasn't publicly announced his position but is thought to be in favor of the status quo.

At this point, the supervisors appear headed to a 3 to 2 deadlock, because it takes four votes to pass a redistricting plan on the five-member board. All eyes will be on Ridley-Thomas' vote, who in addition to backing the second Latino-majority district has also said he does not want the supervisors to deadlock on a decision. A deadlock would take the matter out of the supervisors' hands and give it to a committee of Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Sheriff Lee Baca and Assessor John R. Noguez.

Bob Archuleta, mayor pro tem of the city of Pico Rivera, said Molina's plan is "fair and equitable." He called on the supervisors to be fair to the 48% of Latinos that are in the county of Los Angeles .... It is high time that we level the playing field."

Meanwhile, James Tung, a resident of Rowland Heights, backed Knabe's plan, and said, "a supervisor is elected to represent everyone in his or her district .... It doesn't matter if the resident is black, brown, white, Chinese or Hispanic .... We do not expect to have a Chinese supervisor; our supervisor should be one who listens to the needs of the entire community."


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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photo: A section of the crowd shows support for Supervisor Gloria Molina's redistricting proposals at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times