A small group of Sunland-Tujunga area residents circulated petitions at several Tujunga grocery stores Saturday warning the Los Angeles City Council not to use the death of Councilman Howard Finn as an excuse to tamper with the northeast San Fernando Valley's 1st District boundaries.
The half-dozen members of the newly formed group, Save the First District, were protesting action that the council has not proposed, let alone taken.
But group members, who called a news conference that drew several TV, radio and newspaper reporters, said they started the effort in response to rumors and news reports that council members may seek to use the vacancy created by Finn's death to redraw council district boundaries.
Such an action would avert a bruising election-year fight between Councilmen John Ferraro and Michael Woo. A redistricting plan, approved last month in response to a Justice Department lawsuit, pits Ferraro and Woo against each other in a reelection fight next April. The winner would represent a new Hollywood-Wilshire district.
A proposal being discussed privately between Ferraro and Woo calls for dividing Finn's district between Valley Councilmen Ernani Bernardi and Joel Wachs. Parts of their districts would then be assigned to other council members.
A second proposal would shift council district lines in the East Valley to make the 1st District predominantly Latino and return to Ferraro and Woo the territory they had before the council's recent redistricting.
The council adopted a redistricting plan Aug. 1 to create a new, largely Latino district in accordance with a U. S. Justice Department suit that had accused the city of splitting Latino neighborhoods among several council districts, thus diluting Latinos' political strength--in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Latinos account for 27.5% of the city's population but there is only one Latino--Richard Alatorre--on the 15-member council.
John Simonson of Sun Valley, a leader of the new group, said the petition drive was designed to show that "the community leaders in this district are going to mobilize like they never have before" to avoid having the district split or altered.
"We're trying to keep the city from taking away our voice in government," Simonson said. "To do this to the district is to do extreme violence to the memory of Howard Finn."
Another group member, Pat Koehler of Tujunga, said: "We feel taken advantage of because our councilman died suddenly, which was shock enough. I don't feel it's fair that they take advantage of us by dividing us up."
Several members of the group, which was formed Thursday, are also active in a group seeking to have Finn's widow, Anne, appointed to her husband's council seat. Finn died of a ruptured aorta Aug. 12. He was 68.
Under the proposal being discussed by Ferraro and Woo, Woo would get a new 13th District composed of his Hollywood political base, plus North Hollywood and Studio City areas now represented by Bernardi and Wachs. Ferraro would have his own Wilshire district, which he has long represented.
Sharon Keyser, an aide to Ferraro, Friday confirmed that Ferraro and Woo have discussed changes in the redistricting plan but said, "There's nothing definitive." Woo declined comment.
The plan being discussed by Ferraro and Woo would keep a newly created, predominantly Latino district on the edge of downtown intact, sources said.
Several council members said they are skeptical that the council would reopen the "painful" redistricting process and allow their own political interests to be threatened by new shifts in district lines. They also predicted an uproar from northeast Valley residents, who would inherit a councilman they never elected.
If the council reopens redistricting this late, Bernardi said, it risks having the matter decided by the courts. He pointed out that the city has submitted its redistricting plan to U. S. District Judge James M. Ideman for approval. "If I were in his shoes, I'd say you fellows can't make up your mind. I'll make it up for you," Bernardi said.