SACRAMENTO — Seeking to protect incumbent lawmakers, Senate leaders have proposed new districts that would minimize competition between Democrats and Republicans while limiting the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice, according to critics of the plan.
Much of the talk about the proposed boundaries has focused on creating a new Latino-oriented district in Los Angeles County, carved out at the expense of two Anglo incumbent senators. Their careers would almost certainly be ended if the plan were enacted.
But aside from that vivid example, incumbents in much of the state would see their margins of safety widened. In the process, say a number of minority groups and others, the rights of ethnic communities are being trampled.
"It is obvious that most of the proposed districts are not competitive," said Lisa Foster, executive director of California Common Cause. The group, a self-appointed watchdog of the legislative process, said it counted just four of the 40 state Senate districts that would be up for grabs between the parties if the current incumbents left office.
At public hearings Saturday and Monday, groups representing Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans complained that, except in Los Angeles, the proposed districts, unveiled last week, split their communities in ways that please incumbents.
* The largely Democratic city of San Francisco would continue to be divided into two Senate districts, each having a population about 20% Asian-American. Although there is some disagreement within the Asian community, several witnesses testified that they would prefer to see Asian-Americans concentrated into a single district in which about 33% of the residents would be Asian-American.
The city is nearly the size of the ideal Senate district population of 744,000. But to put most of the city residents in one district would probably make the other more Republican, making it more difficult for the remaining incumbent to stay in office. One of the incumbent San Franciscans is the chairman of the committee that is responsible for drawing the new districts.
* In the Sacramento area, the plan would divide the city between two Senate districts, placing the heavily black community of Meadowview into the same district as Stockton, 40 miles to the south.
Although some Stockton blacks support the plan, Sacramento residents have registered strong protests, saying they have little in common with their southern neighbors and would find it difficult to establish effective political alliances in such a district.
They have offered an alternative plan that places all of Meadowview into the district that includes the rest of the city of Sacramento. But to replace Meadowview in the Stockton-based district, the plan adds several heavily white and Republican communities, sharply reducing the partisan margin of comfort for the current Democratic incumbent.
* The city of Oakland, which was divided between two Senate districts 10 years ago, would be further fractured in the Senate proposal for the 1990s. The result is that some of the city's heavily black precincts are put into a mostly white district, further diluting the black population of the seat based in Oakland.
Fixing the problem, however, would cause an additional split in Contra Costa County to the east and cause a "ripple" across the Bay Area that would be unacceptable to a number of Democratic incumbents.
* In Central California, the Senate's proposed plan creates a district that would be about 43% Latino and would not endanger any incumbents who represent that area. But a coalition of Latino groups has suggested an alternative that would increase the Latino population in that district to more than 55%. That configuration, however, would displace an Anglo Democratic incumbent along the coast, pushing his district south into more conservative areas.
* The Senate proposal places the heavily Anglo San Fernando Valley community of Encino into the 20th District. This was done to encircle a home owned by the incumbent--Sen. Alan Robbins. But Latinos have proposed an alternative in which Latinos would be represented in greater numbers by picking up the communities of Sunland and Tujunga.
The disputes have become a source of tension between minority groups and their historic allies among the Democrats who control the Senate. At two days of public hearings, the exchanges between witnesses and lawmakers were sometimes pointed and sometimes cloaked in terms calculated to sound benign but understood by the participants.
One Sacramento black leader, Vincent Harris of the Summit on Afro-American Concerns, told the Democratic-dominated Elections and Reapportionment Committee that the rock-solid alliance between the Democratic Party and the black community was beginning to show some fissures.