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New Council District Boundaries Brewing With Changes in Long Beach Population

September 25, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Councilman Warren Harwood knows firsthand the hazards of redistricting.

Five years ago, Harwood was a City Council candidate challenging incumbent Russell Rubley in the 9th District. Harwood had been campaigning hard for months when Rubley and other council members approved a remapping of all nine districts.

The redistricting moved a boundary line in the 9th District one block north. It was a small change, except it meant that Harwood's home in North Long Beach was then in the 8th District.

"I literally had to leave my house," Harwood recalled this week.

Harwood said he rented an apartment to maintain residency in the district while he campaigned against Rubley. After Harwood won election in June, 1982, the council voted a month later to redraw boundary lines, and return Harwood's home to the 9th District.

Five-Year Remapping

This month, the council has again taken up redistricting. The City Charter requires that every five years council districts must be redrawn if the Planning Commission finds, as it did recently, that district populations are not "approximately equal."

Unlike neighboring Los Angeles, Long Beach is under no court-imposed deadline to redistrict. In Los Angeles, the city was sued by the U. S. Justice Department last year on behalf of the city's Latino population. In its suit, the Justice Department contended that existing council districts were unfair to Latinos. In Long Beach, however, the racial makeup of the council is not an issue in the city's redistricting, officials said.

In a recent review, Long Beach's city planners found that populations of the districts now vary by as much as 8,154 people, with the 1st District having the most constituents, 47,029, and the 5th District the least, 38,875. City planners said the nine council districts should each have about 43,000 people.

The council has until the 1988 municipal elections to finish the task, but council members say they hope to have redistricting completed by the end of this year.

This time around, Harwood said, he wants to ensure that redistricting is done "with some measure of fairness." He said he does not expect the process to be as controversial as in 1981.

'Always Traumatic'

"Everywhere there's a boundary changing you've got at least two council people who have the possibility of getting upset, but I think it will work out," Harwood said.

Councilman Tom Clark, a veteran of 20 years, is also wary.

"It (redistricting) is always traumatic," Clark said. "You lose constituents you've had for years, and you gain some constituents."

Redistricting is necessary because the city's population is growing in the downtown areas where Latino and Asian populations, with their higher birth rates, are concentrated, said Jim Rafferty, a senior planner for the city. Meanwhile, the population in adjacent suburban areas is decreasing as children grow up and leave home, Rafferty said.

According to Rafferty's figures, the populations of three downtown-area council districts, the 1st, 2nd and 6th, have increased so that the districts are now between 45,646 and 47,029 in population. And in five surrounding suburban districts, on the north and east sides, populations have largely decreased to between 38,875 and 41,518.

Computer Study

Rafferty spent two months last fall performing a computer study of the districts. The recommendations that came out of the study were the result of a "purely technical exercise" that is free of politics, Rafferty said.

With the city of Signal Hill and the Long Beach Municipal Airport in the center of the city of Long Beach, the nine council districts are shaped like a horseshoe, Rafferty said. That shape left him with few options, he said, so he decided on a "pincer-like" movement that would shift the boundaries of the districts south and west toward the downtown area.

Rafferty said that in recommending changes in district boundaries, he tried to minimize splitting neighborhoods while conserving council constituencies. He said he tried to make changes along major borders, such as the city's larger streets.

The city planner's proposed changes, however, have already drawn objections from one council member.

Clark, whose 4th District has to add approximately 3,000 constituents, said he was not particularly pleased by the planner's proposal to move the boundary lines of his east side district to the west along Anaheim Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

'Neck of an Ostrich'

To Clark, the extension looks like "the neck of an ostrich" that is poking into downtown areas whose residents, Clark said, are "certainly different" than his current constituents. The councilman said he would prefer moving south into Jan Hall's 3rd District to pick up more "contiguous areas," such as the affluent residents in the exclusive walled and gated Bixby Hills area.

That area, according to Clark, has "community interests" similar to his current constituents, such as concern over the growth of the airport.

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