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Backers say adding L.A. County Latino district helps Asians

September 27, 2011 |  5:09 pm

Supervisor 1rd District Gloria Molina and Supervisor 2nd. district Mark Ridley-Thomas listen to the speakers at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting held to consider of various supervisorial redistricting proposals. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Supporters of a plan to help boost Latino representation on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors pushed back Tuesday against the suggestion that the Asian American community would suffer under their proposal.

Last week, a coalition of Asian American social service groups, many of which have contracts with the county, announced they supported Supervisor Don Knabe’s call to largely preserve current boundaries instead of drawing a second Latino-majority district.

The Asian groups warned that creating a second Latino district would dilute their influence. One leader criticized the two nonwhites on the board, Gloria Molina, who is Latino, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is black, for failing to pay attention to Asian American issues. They described Knabe as more responsive.

In an interview Tuesday, Ridley-Thomas said his plan to create a Latino-majority district also would give Asian Americans the greatest share of the electorate in a single district. Under his proposal, a northern county district now represented by Michael D. Antonovich would become 19.3% Asian American among potential voters –- the highest percentage of Asians in any district under any currently proposed plan. Molina’s existing East L.A. and San Gabriel Valley district has 18.2% adult-age Asian citizens.

Ridley-Thomas said his plan reflects preferences Asian Americans expressed during recent state redistricting hearings: that heavily Asian San Gabriel Valley cities such as Monterey Park, Rosemead, Alhambra and San Gabriel be joined in one district.

"I have a long history of working in solidarity with Asian Pacific Islanders," Ridley-Thomas said.

He pointed to his past support for a variety of Asian officials, including Judy Chu, a congresswoman from Monterey Park, state Assemblyman Mike Eng and Assemblyman Warren Furutani, who is running for Los Angeles City Council.

He sharply disputed suggestions that he was not as responsive to Asian needs as Knabe. "My real angst is about that cheap shot," Ridley-Thomas said.

Some members of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, which had criticized Molina and Ridley-Thomas last week, were more conciliatory at Tuesday’s county redistricting hearing, saying both supervisors had helped their communities.

Other members of the group repeated concerns that plans for a new Latino district could separate Chinatown from the board’s more heavily Asian San Gabriel Valley district. "It will divide our communities and it will dilute and submerge our political influence," said Mark Masaoka, policy coordinator with the Asian policy council.

Masaoka has argued that Asian Americans benefit when no one racial or ethnic group has a dominant majority in a district. In that case, he said, politicians are forced to pay attention to Asian Americans because they need their vote.

Furutani, who represents the Gardena area, took issue with the claim that a second Latino-majority district would diminish Asian American influence. "I don’t see why we would assume that if it’s a Latino elected supervisor, he or she would not be responsive to the Asian community..... I still believe it depends on the individual," Furutani said in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, supporters of Don Knabe, who is white and represents a coastal and southeastern L.A. County district that is 42% white, 32% Latino and 17% Asian among potential voters, endorsed keeping the current district lines largely the same.

John Mowat, 74, of Hacienda Heights, said Knabe "will represent all the community, not just one group."


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

Photo: L.A. County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas listen to the speakers at Tuesday's hearing on redistricting proposals.

Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times