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Council Carves Latino District; Asians, Liberals Seen as Losers

August 08, 1991|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of lobbying by a Latino coalition and weeks of wrangling among councilmen, the Long Beach City Council has approved a redistricting proposal that should help put a Latino on the board for the first time.

Responding to a dramatic jump in the city's Latino population and the threat of a lawsuit by Latino activists, the council redrew the boundaries of the 1st District to give it a Latino majority.

"I'm really overjoyed for the Latino community," said Jerome Torres, one of the leaders of El Concilio, the coalition that helped push the proposal through. "Hopefully in three years there will be a Latina or a Latino on the City Council."

The new district was created in a painful reapportionment process that led the Latinos into an unlikely alliance with council conservatives, left the Asian community dissatisfied and rearranged the political landscape of the city's west side.

Ironically, the Latino drive for power wound up hurting the more liberal council members--who have traditionally been among the most sympathetic to minority concerns--while benefiting more conserative members who have often been less supportive.

As a result of the boundary juggling, 1st District Councilman Evan Anderson Braude is losing much of his old district and could face a Latino challenger if he chooses to run for reelection in three years. Fourth District Councilman Tom Clark is saying goodby to neighborhoods that have supported him. And Councilman Ray Grabinski's 7th District has been chopped into tenuously connected pieces.

In contrast, 2nd District Councilman Wallace Edgerton, who has voted against various minority-backed programs, emerged the major winner. Not only was the neighborhood of a potential challenger dropped from his district, he also picked up the port and the most prosperous part of downtown, two political plums that will greatly strengthen his fund-raising base.

Third District Councilman Doug Drummond added the affluent Bluff Park area to his constituency, while the 9th, 8th and 6th districts either remained essentially the same or picked up politically desirable areas.

"Unfortunately, the way the cards played out--yeah--the so-called liberal members suffered," said Torres. "But throughout this process, everybody had an ulterior motive. . . . We're not going to be taken for granted. We will follow our own piper."

The redistricting plan approved Tuesday by the council and endorsed by Mayor Ernie Kell closely resembled reapportionment proposals suggested earlier by Edgerton and El Concilio. Its passage is testament to Edgerton's ability to line up votes for a proposal that benefited him as well as the Latino community--which has doubled in size during the last decade to nearly a quarter of the city's population.

"(Edgerton) saw an opportunity and he seized it," remarked Manny Perez, a Concilio member and former planning commissioner. "Wally was the one who was talking . . . to the Concilio. I think the other council members could have had the same support if they had decided early on to play."

In a key vote Monday night that set the stage for Tuesday's approval, the council, meeting as a committee, approved the redistricting measure 6 to 3, with Councilmen Braude, Clark and Grabinski voting no.

It was the climax of several tumultuous weeks of packed council meetings, peacekeeping efforts between the Latino and black communities, complaints of neglect from the Asian community and cries of gerrymandering.

From the beginning, the Latino coalition said it did not want to gain power at the expense of the city's other minority groups. But the first redistricting plan proposed by the Concilio left Clarence Smith, the council's only black member, out of his district, while Edgerton's plan dropped the historic core of the black community from Smith's 6th District.

When the black community cried foul, Smith and various black neighborhoods were restored to the 6th District in a successful effort by Kell and the minority groups to avoid a confrontation. But the Asian community remained unhappy, complaining that its voting base was being diluted by the inclusion of Asian areas in several different council districts.

"What you have done is called racial gerrymandering," protested Oliver Wang in a statement he delivered to the council Monday night on behalf of Long Beach's sizable Asian community. "It is intentional discrimination. It is illegal," Wang continued, raising the possibility that Asian voters may sue the city over the reapportionment boundaries.

Kell, pointing out that the new 7th District is one-fourth Asian, said that was the best the council could do without adding more seats to the council.

There were angry words over the transfer of Bluff Park from Edgerton's district to Drummond's. Not only did that remove some disaffected voters from Edgerton's district, it also removed challenger Alan Lowenthal.

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