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Immigration Changes the Old Political Patterns

September 03, 1986|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City County Bureau Chief

Los Angeles' reapportionment fight, erupting again at a City Council committee hearing Tuesday, points up how the new immigration of Latinos and Asians has changed the city's politics and influenced its power structure.

In the past, council district lines have been drawn to reflect a city that has always considered itself a place dominated by residential neighborhoods.

These tended to be segregated neighborhoods. Blacks have lived in the large area south of the Santa Monica Freeway. Latinos have lived largely in barrios in East Los Angeles and other places. In the case of blacks, minority representation was taken care of by creating three districts in the black area that also reflected neighborhood interests.

But that pattern is changing.

Latino and Asian neighborhoods are springing up all over the city as the population of these new immigrant groups grows.

Latino growth is particularly strong in the San Fernando Valley. And it is scattered rather than being centered in one huge Valley barrio.

The federal Voting Rights Act, enforced by the Justice Department, requires that council districts reflect ethnic changes. It does not consider neighborhood community of interests. It does mean that the scattered Latino and Asians must be represented by one of their own ethnic group. Thus the weight of the law is behind Latinos, at present, and probably Asian later, increasing their power in this multi-ethnic city in districts that sharply depart from the old neighborhood pattern.

At present, there is one Latino on the council, Richard Alatorre, but all of the reapportionment plans that have been debated are designed to help the election of at least one more. Michael Woo is the only Asian council member.

Caltech Prof. Bruce Cain, the political scientist who is the council's reapportionment expert, discussed the ethnic political transformation before the council Charter Amendments Committee meeting Tuesday.

He noted that the current reapportionment fight was caused by the U.S. Justice Department's insistence that the city follow the dictates of the federal Voting Rights Act and increase representation of Latinos.

To do that, he said, the council had to draw the new districts based on ethnic factors, instead of by neighborhoods, as was done in the past.

"We don't do redistricting in the way we did . . . when you redistricted on the basis of communities," he said.

Apparent in Meeting

The effect of the change was apparent in the committee meeting. Councilman Joel Wachs charged that "sleazy maneuvering" was under way and warned "you are going to rue this day." His anger was caused by the fact that he would lose much of his San Fernando Valley-Hollywood Hills district in the latest plan and find himself representing new constituents in Sunland-Tujunga, possibly more conservative than he is, and who may not support his battles for rent control and gay rights.

Another kind of anger came from a constituent. "We appreciate the realities," said Richard Goetle of the Wilshire area Oxford Square Homeowners Assn., referring to federal action forcing Los Angeles to redistrict to increase Latino representation on the council. "But the federal mandate never contemplated the dividing of communities."

His neighborhood had for many years been grouped with similar upscale mid-Wilshire-area sections in the 4th District of Councilman John Ferraro, a conservative resident of Wilshire's affluent Hancock Park.

Fractured District

The latest plan would place Goetle's neighborhood in the district of Councilman David Cunningham, a liberal black. But other mid-Wilshire areas would stay with Ferraro, meaning Goetle and his neighbors would be isolated from old political allies and forced to seek better streets and more police patrols from a new and unfamiliar council member.

The changes were proposed in an alignment offered by Ferraro and Councilman Michael Woo, who were trying to save their political careers. An earlier reapportionment plan, adopted by the council last month, threw them into the same district. Tuesday, they offered their own plan, putting each of them in different districts.

Cain said similar changes would occur in the San Fernando Valley in the 1990 reapportionment "as there is an increase in minority growth in those areas."

Political Consequences

The political fallout from the redistricting dispute could be great.

It puts Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in a difficult situation. He has campaigned for years on a platform of helping the Valley, never his strong area. If he approves the latest plan, opposed by Valley interests, he could face cries of outrage from the area during the climactic part of his gubernatorial race against Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. If he vetoes it, he would enrage council supporters.

Another politician whose long-range future could be affected is Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, a power in the Westside and a mayoral aspirant. He would get San Fernando Valley sections of Wachs' old district in the latest plan, giving him Valley exposure if he runs for mayor.

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