LONG BEACH — The City Council has approved a reapportionment plan called fair by some but criticized by at least one councilman as smacking of gerrymandering.
The redistricting plan, which shifts boundaries to equalize the number of residents each council member represents, is designed to eliminate discrepancies caused by uneven population growth.
Under the plan approved Tuesday, Councilman Tom Clark's district would be the most altered.
And Clark, who represents the 4th District, was not happy with the plan, which he said divides the predominantly middle-class suburban area he now represents and creates a district with different concerns and problems.
"I don't have any difficulty serving one area or another," Clark said. But the plan, which will push his constituency farther west and away from the people he has represented for 21 years, will be tougher to represent than neighborhoods with common concerns, he said.
While Clark said representing the homeowners on the East Side and the renters on the west will make for a less "compact" district, Councilman Warren Harwood said greater diversity in the districts would make the council "a less homogenous group" and potentially create a new ally for those pushing for rent control in Long Beach.
But to Clark, the reapportionment plan, which is slated for final approval next week, "looks like you are gerrymandering," referring to the practice of contorting districts for political advantage.
Mayor Ernie Kell countered after the meeting that "the council was not gerrymandering at all. He (Clark) was trying to gerrymander."
Noting that the plan approved was based predominantly on city staff members' recommendations, Kell said: "Staff has no reason to gerrymander. Politicians gerrymander."
Populations Out of Line
Last summer, the Planning Commission found that the population in the city's nine districts varied by as much as 8,154 residents, with Councilman Evan Anderson Braude's 1st District having the most constituents (47,029), and Kell's East Side 5th District the least (38,875).
The city charter requires redrawing the lines every five years if the Planning Commission finds that the nine district populations are not "approximately equal." Each council district should have about 43,000 people, city officials said.
Under the redistricting plan, Clark lost about 4,200 constituents to Kell's adjoining district. Clark then had to gain about 7,000 new constituents. To his dismay, they came from some of the poorest sections of Councilman Wallace Edgerton's 2nd District.
Under an alternate plan proposed by Braude, those constituents would have been divided between Clark and Edgerton. But that plan lost on a 6-3 vote, with Clark, Braude and Hall in the minority. The tentative plan then passed, 8 to 1, with Clark dissenting.
Clark said he did not think the boundary changes would affect his reelection bid in 1988, should he decide to run. Clark, who narrowly won in 1980 and 1984, said he plans to meet soon with constituents in the new area, north of Anaheim Street and west of Junipero Avenue.
"I think this is the main difference you have initially: You have to get out and meet with the people," Clark said. "It requires additional effort."
Braude, who sided with Clark against the redistricting plan, said he did not think the new boundary lines will "significantly reduce" Clark's chances for reelection.
"Everyone wants an easy ride. There is no question some people can run in one district easier than others," Braude said.
Clark's announcement last month that he will not run for mayor and his hesitation to announce his bid for reelection may have cost him this reapportionment battle, Braude said.
"This is a political body, so you have to always recognize that anything done is done with something in the back of their minds," Braude said.
With Clark no longer running for mayor, "some of the bargaining power he may have had went by the wayside," Braude said. And without a firm commitment to seek reelection, Clark also may have lost support in the council because, Braude said, "Quite frankly, if you had to make a decision . . . why go out on a limb for the person who is not even sure he will run."
Times staff writer Daryl Kelley contributed to this story.