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To Help Minorities : Cerritos Trustees Urge Creation of Districts

March 05, 1989|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

The trustees of Cerritos College have recommended that the community college district be divided into seven trustee areas.

Trustees now are chosen at large from throughout the district, which serves Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, La Mirada, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and parts of Lakewood, Long Beach and South Gate.

At its Feb. 21 meeting, the board voted 4 to 3 in favor of creating seven trustee areas, which are expected to increase representation of ethnic minorities, especially Latinos, on the board. Each of the areas would elect one trustee.

One Latino Member

Support for dividing the district along ethnic lines has been building since last fall after John Moore, a resident of Cerritos, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board. Most of those calling for redistricting have argued that Latinos, the largest minority in the district, have been inadequately represented in the past and that the new plan would increase the likelihood of a Latino trustee being named by largely Latino communities such as Hawaiian Gardens. The board currently has one Latino member, Ruth Banda.

Banda, who backed the redistricting plan, said, "I think it's pretty obvious there's been under-representation of Latinos, who are the largest minority in the district." Banda said she hoped the creation of trustee districts would result in "fairer representation for the ethnic groups in the district." Under the new plan, two of the seven districts (Nos. 2 and 4) would be 45% or more Latino.

Kathleen Navejas, mayor of Hawaiian Gardens, praised the plan. "I think it will give us the representation the communities need," she said. Navejas pointed out that Hawaiian Gardens, which is less than a mile square and has only 4,000 registered voters, has little chance of sending a trustee to the board in an at-large election. "We're the little guy, begging to get the services, but if you don't have the votes, you don't have the influence," she said.

Those opposed to the change included board President Mark Durant. Durant said the district should retain its current practice of picking "the best people from the whole district."

"What if you have two outstanding candidates from one area?" Durant asked. "Only one would be able to serve on the board."

Other Options Considered

Before deciding on the ethnic alternative, the board considered several other options presented by a consultant from the Southern California Assn. of Governments. These included trustee areas that closely followed city boundaries and areas based on school district boundaries. As Banda pointed out, the city boundaries and the ethnically derived boundaries are very similar. In splitting a district into trustee areas, the only requirement is a state law requiring that the areas be approximately equal in population, county education official Marc Forgy said.

Several other community college districts have trustee areas, including Rio Hondo, Pasadena and Compton. The Los Angeles Community College District is considering such a division. Cerritos is the first local community college district explicitly to propose division along ethnic lines.

De Facto Ethnic Split

According to Rio Hondo College President Herbert M. Sussman, that district's division into geographically determined trustee areas results in a de facto split along ethnic lines, with about half the trustees coming from the Latino community. Sussman (who has sometimes been at odds with the Rio Hondo board) said that division "fragments and politicizes the district."

The recommendation of the Cerritos board now goes to the County Committee on School District Organization. A public meeting on the issue will be held April 13. If the county committee approves the plan, it will appear on the November ballot. If voters approve, the plan would go into effect in 1991. However, the findings of the 1990 federal census would have to be taken into account in determining the size and makeup of the proposed trustee areas.

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