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ELECTION '92 : Voters May Add 4 Supervisors and Choose to Elect a County Chief

October 08, 1992|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took more than 100 years--and a costly legal battle ending at the U. S. Supreme Court--before a Latino won a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Now, 20 months after Supervisor Gloria Molina cracked open the all-male, all-white club, county voters on Nov. 3 could move to add a second Latino-majority district on the governing body of the nation's most populous county. Approval of Proposition C would add four supervisors to the five-member board.

But enlarging the county board--even if approved--will not take effect unless voters pass Proposition B, which would create a county executive who would be elected countywide in 1994.

"You cannot expand to nine and have no one in charge," said Judy Borash, a former president of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County, a leading proponent of the ballot measures.

Board expansion--a centerpiece of Molina's 1991 supervisorial campaign--has been proposed for decades as a way to provide better representation. The board has remained at five members since 1885, when supervisors governed a population of 70,000. Today, the board oversees a $13-billion budget and a population of 8.9 million--larger than that of most states.

Supervisors have drawn new district boundaries from which the four new supervisors would be elected in 1994. The map appears in the voter information pamphlet, which is mailed to registered voters and is available in Spanish from the county registrar-recorder.

The proposed nine-district map provides for two districts in which Latinos would account for at least 72% of the population and 47% of the registered voters. The new 1st District, currently represented by Molina, would extend from East Los Angeles to the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley. The new 7th District would run from Huntington Park and South Gate through Montebello, El Monte and Pico Rivera to Azusa.

Supervisors initially decided to give voters the option of expanding the board to seven or nine members, but withdrew the seven-member proposal after it drew objections from the U. S. Justice Department and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. They claimed that enlarging the board to seven members would dilute Latino voting power.

MALDEF, although a longtime advocate of enlarging the board, has come out against the ballot proposal because it cannot take place unless the office of county executive is approved. "It diminishes the gains Latinos have recently made in gaining access to county government," said Nancy Ramirez, a MALDEF attorney. She said the executive could reduce the influence of Molina or a second Latino supervisor.

Board expansion has drawn opposition from the Los Angeles Taxpayers Assn., the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana, who contend that it will increase county costs.

Supporters, including a majority of the incumbent supervisors, say both propositions provide safeguards for taxpayers. The measures specify that the budgets of the county executive and new board cannot exceed the budget of the current board and county's chief administrative officer.

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