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Judge Dismisses U.S. Suit on L.A. Redistricting

September 22, 1986|RICHARD SIMON | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge today dismissed a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against the Los Angeles City Council over its district boundaries, bringing to an end the legal challenge that prompted a bitter redistricting fight.

After the ruling, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, an opponent of the plan, which radically changes his San Fernando Valley district, vowed to continue his efforts to repeal the plan by an initiative or another court challenge.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S District Judge James M. Ideman stressed that his action should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the plan. "All I'm saying is it appears to solve the problem of this particular lawsuit," he said.

The Justice Department last November filed suit contending that the city's 1982 redistricting split up Latino neighborhoods--and diluted their political strength--in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Opposed in Valley

In order to settle the suit, the council created a predominantly Latino council district just west of downtown. The plan, approved by the council 11-3 on Sept. 12 over Mayor Tom Bradley's veto, was bitterly opposed by San Fernando Valley residents because it eliminated the 1st District represented until his death last month by Councilman Howard Finn. That territory was parceled out to Councilmen Bernardi and Joel Wachs.

The dismissal was supported by the Justice Department and two minority groups which intervened in the lawsuit--the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Justice Department, while accepting the latest plan, criticized the "odd shape" of the new council districts.

"Although we have concluded that these convoluted configurations do not dilute minority voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, we feel obligated to advise the court that the City Council was not compelled to achieve compliance with the Act by adopting such distorted configurations," the department said in papers filed in court.

Election Next Year

Sheila Delaney, a Justice Department attorney, said that while the new map complies with the law, she felt compelled to respond to suggestions from council members that the odd-shaped districts were drawn because they were required by law.

Delaney pointed out that an earlier plan approved by the council July 31 also complied with the Voting Rights Act but did not meet a Justice Department demand for an early election in the Latino district. The latest plan, which is already in effect, allows for an election early next year in the new Latino district.

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