A federal judge Monday dismissed the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against the Los Angeles City Council over its district boundaries, ending the legal challenge that prompted a bitter redistricting fight among council members.
After the ruling, however, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, an opponent of the plan that gives him a largely new East San Fernando Valley district, vowed to carry on his fight to repeal the measure by a ballot initiative. Both Bernardi and Councilman Joel Wachs have said they are considering new lawsuits against the plan.
In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge James M. Ideman stressed that he was not endorsing the redistricting plan. "All I'm saying is it appears to solve the problems of this particular lawsuit," he said.
The Justice Department filed suit last November contending that council districts split Latino neighborhoods--and diluted their political strength--in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
In order to settle the suit, the council created a 69% Latino district west of downtown, affording Latinos the opportunity to elect a second representative to the 15-member City Council. The plan, approved by the council by a vote of 11 to 3 on Sept. 12 over Mayor Tom Bradley's veto, was bitterly opposed by hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents, where the remapping was most pronounced.
The 1st District, represented until his death last month by Councilman Howard Finn, was removed from the Valley and the territory was parceled out to Bernardi and Councilman Joel Wachs.
The latest plan, the third approved by the council since the lawsuit was filed, was accepted by the Justice Department and two minority groups that intervened in the lawsuit--the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Southern California Chinese Lawyers Assn. and other Asian groups challenged the plan, contending that it weakened the political influence of Asians. However, Ideman on Monday rejected their challenge, saying that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and other Asians are not geographically and politically unified enough to control a council election, a requirement for claiming a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The judge also questioned whether Asians have been denied representation in light of last year's election of Michael Woo, the first Asian on the council.
District Shapes Criticized
The Justice Department, while accepting the latest plan, criticized the "oddly shaped" districts, particularly Wachs' new East Valley 2nd District. Wachs' new Y-shaped district is divided by a big chunk of Bernardi's district, with only a long, thin finger of territory connecting Sunland-Tujunga on one side and Van Nuys on the other.
In papers filed with the court, the department said: ". . . 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."
Sheila Delaney, a Justice Department attorney, said she commented on the odd-shaped districts because some council members said they had to be drawn that way to comply with the law. "We wanted to disclaim that thought," she said.
Delaney pointed out that an earlier plan approved by the council on July 31 satisfied the department except for providing for an early election in the Latino district. The latest plan, now in effect, provides for an election early next year in the new Latino district.
Devised by Ferraro, Woo
The earlier plan, however, set up a clash between Councilmen John Ferraro and Woo, who were likely opponents in an election next year for the same Hollywood-Wilshire district. After Finn's death, Ferraro and Woo devised the new plan, which put them back into separate districts.
Richard Fajardo, lead counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised the latest plan. He said it not only provides for an early election in the 1st District--the new downtown-area Latino district--but increases the opportunity for election of the first Latino council member from the Valley, and possibly the third citywide. Currently, Richard Alatorre is the only Latino on the 15-member council.
The latest plan provides for a Latino population of at least 44% in the new 7th district represented by Bernardi. "The plan has the additional advantage of consolidating Latino strength in an area where the Latino population is growing," Fajardo said.
Bernardi Addresses Court
During the brief hearing, Bernardi, given permission to address the court, declared, "I want to make it clear we're not satisfied." Later, outside the courthouse, Bernardi unveiled a draft of a petition to repeal the plan and re-enact the one that was approved July 31, which would leave the Valley largely untouched. He needs to gather 69,519 voter signatures by late December to put the issue before voters in the June election.
"The case is over, and the city is delighted it is," Asst. City Atty. Shelley Rosenfield said Monday.