In an attempt to quell a political firestorm that could engulf Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles City Council, Council President Pat Russell today will propose a redistricting plan that would create a new Latino district and place two members in one district where they would have to fight it out to see who stays.
Council district boundary lines would be redrawn so that a new Latino-majority district would exist in the 13th district, currently represented by Councilman Michael Woo. With the lines redrawn, Woo and Councilman John Ferraro of the city's central 4th district would both live in the 4th district, setting up a future struggle between the two for that seat. Because the new majority Latino district would have no incumbent who lives there, it would become an open seat, one where presumably a Latino would be elected.
But a late-breaking preliminary opinion from the city attorney's office could throw a major snag into the Russell plan. According to Tom Sullivan, press aide for Councilman Richard Alatorre, the city attorney's office said Monday that even if Woo ran against Ferraro in the 4th District and lost next year, Woo would remain the incumbent councilman for the 13th District until his term ended in 1989.
Under those circumstances, the 13th District could not be considered an "open" seat for a Latino. And that plan would "clearly be rejected" by plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit, Sullivan said.
Russell's scramble to come up with yet another redistricting plan, like two others proposed earlier, is in response to a federal lawsuit accusing the city of drawing political boundaries in 1982 that resulted in a dilution of Latino voting strength.
Alatorre, the council's only Latino, last week proposed a plan to satisfy the lawsuit that would make Woo's current district 65% Latino and remove Woo's Hollywood base from his district.
An outraged Woo, along with Asian community groups, condemned Alatorre's plan as pitting the city's "two fastest growing minorities against each other." With a 65% Latino district, Woo contended, he would likely be challenged by a Latino and have a hard time remaining the only Asian elected to the council. Woo presented his own plan late last week that would place the Latino majority in Ferraro's district, but the plan was criticized by some community groups as having too few Latinos who are eligible to vote. A City Hall source close to Russell said the plan would accomplish two major things: diminish the Asian-Latino conflict and create an open seat for a Latino.
The expected Russell plan, said the source, "doesn't say to any one council member, you're gone. If the new 4th (district) includes part of Hollywood, Woo's base, it sweetens it for him, and if it's reasonably fair for Ferraro, it could work," the source said. "It would mean they would have to fight it out, but they would have a chance."
There are hopes that the plan also would present a "veto-proof" solution for Bradley, who would have to approve or veto any new redistricting ordinance. If enough council members agree, Bradley, who is running for governor and has received significant campaign contributions from Asians, would not be in the position of having to veto the Alatorre or Woo plan and anger Latinos or Asians.
In an impromptu press conference Monday afternoon, prior to the city attorney's preliminary opinion, Alatorre called Russell's plan "nearly identical" to one he had mapped out earlier but did not release. He called the Russell plan "probably much more viable" than the two previous proposals that were made public.
He said Russell told him that during the weekend sentiment on the council had changed in favor of collapsing two districts into one, perhaps as a means of resolving the Asian-Latino conflict.
The new 4th district, Alatorre said, would draw from 40% of the population of Ferraro's current district and 60% of Woo's current district. The new 13th would include heavily Latino areas of Lincoln Heights, Pico Union, Echo Park and Highland Park.