On the eve of the Los Angeles City Council vote on a redistricting plan, Latino political activists and other East San Fernando Valley residents clashed over the proposal that would drastically change their council representation.
About 750 people crowded into the Hubert H. Humphrey Recreation Center in Pacoima Tuesday night to testify at an emotionally charged hearing on the redistricting plan, which Latino leaders said might make possible the election of a Valley Latino to the council.
But of those who signed up to speak, most from the northeastern Valley's 1st Council District, opponents outnumbered supporters by more than 10 to 1.
"The people of the San Fernando Valley are angry," Councilman Joel Wachs said of the plan, which would take 90% of his existing district away from him.
"Look at the crowd this evening and hear the anger of their voices," Wachs told the council's Charter and Elections Committee.
The meeting was interrupted several times as the audience broke into chants of "Save the First," protesting the proposal to dissolve the existing district and divide its territory among two other districts. Opponents complained that the redistricting would assign them council members whom they never elected and who are unfamiliar with local problems.
Alatorre Triggers Reaction
At one point, Councilman Richard Alatorre, a supporter of the plan, interrupted a woman criticizing the proposal when the crowd began to cheer. He told the audience to "act like adults," triggering a chorus of jeers.
The shouting subsided only when Councilman Ernani Bernardi took the microphone and told the audience to "please hold, hold, hold down your enthusiasm."
The crowd then began giving silent approval to opponents speaking before the committee by waving their hands wildly in the air.
Supporters of the plan, mostly Latinos but also including black leaders, received thumbs-down signals as they spoke.
A number of Latino leaders testified that the proposal would give Valley Latinos a voice in city government for the first time.
"The Mexican roots that are in this Valley demand you give us a Latino seat . . .," said Pete Beltran, president of the heavily Latino United Auto Workers Local 645 at the Van Nuys General Motors plant. "We have a right to be represented on the council."
Black community activists speaking included Jose DeSosa, the president of the Valley chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "This plan would give minorities the representation they haven't had," he said.
'Civil Rights Issue'
"This is a civil rights issue," said Richard Packard, a black community activist from Pacoima. Addressing blacks in the crowd, he added, "At one time it was us crying out in the wilderness. And now the Latino community is crying out for support and I'm looking at some of us thumbs down and I don't think it's fair."
The plan would increase the likelihood that a Latino will be elected to the council because it would establish a Valley district with a Latino population of at least 44%, represented by Bernardi.
Latino political leaders believe they could win the seat by defeating Bernardi when he comes up for reelection in 1989 or waiting until the 74-year-old councilman retires.
Averting Ferraro-Woo Contest
The plan seeks to use the vacancy created by the death of Councilman Howard Finn to avert a contest between Councilmen John Ferraro and Michael Woo. Ferraro and Woo found themselves in the same Hollywood-Wilshire district when the council on July 31 created a heavily Latino district near downtown.
That heavily Latino district was created in response to a federal lawsuit alleging that previous district boundaries violated Latinos' voting rights.
The latest plan, drawn by Ferraro and Woo, eliminates what is now the 1st District, which Finn represented, and parcels out that territory to Bernardi and Wachs.
Parts of Wachs' district would be assigned to Ferraro and Woo, who would have separate districts. The heavily Latino district established near downtown would become the new 1st District.
Bernardi and Wachs have been the most fervent opponents of the Ferraro-Woo plan, which would cost them areas in which they have enjoyed strong political support.
The hearing, called by Alatorre, who has directed the council's redistricting, was seen as an effort to win Mayor Tom Bradley's support for the plan.
Bradley has been under pressure from Valley residents to veto the plan, which will go to him if given final approval by the council today. Ten council votes are required to override a mayoral veto.
Anne Finn, the widow of Councilman Finn, spoke briefly against the plan at Tuesday's hearing, which lasted more than three hours. "I guess you can see how offended we feel," she said.