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Critics Draw the Line Over Redistricting Plan Secrecy : Ordinance: After a quiet introduction last week, the proposal is scheduled for a second reading and council vote Sept. 13.

August 15, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALHAMBRA — A proposed ordinance that would change Alhambra's City Council districts to keep up with population shifts is unlikely to affect elections, but has angered residents who say the redistricting process should have been made public.

The ordinance was presented for a first reading at a council meeting last Monday and appeared on the agenda the preceding Friday. Residents who found out about the plan from a city employee weeks before and called City Hall to inquire say they were told no action would be taken anytime soon.

Realtor Gloria Georgino, a 40-year Alhambra resident and liaison to the City Council for the West San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Realtors, said someone on the board learned of the redistricting effort about two weeks ago and asked her to find out what was going on.

"I called the city clerk's office and they didn't have the information. I called the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency and they said they didn't know anything about it," Georgino said. "And I called the assistant to (City Manager Julio J.) Fuentes and was told, 'Way down the road somewhere we're going to be doing that.' And those were the exact words."

Other residents said they also called City Hall and received similar responses.

The council is expected to vote on the ordinance after a second reading Sept. 13, City Clerk Frances A. Moore said.

"The only information being given out (to callers) was that it was still being looked at, and that we would notify them when something happened if they asked me to. But nobody asked," Moore said. "We're not hiding anything. I think this is being blown way out of proportion."

The process was set in motion more than a year ago by Moore and City Atty. Leland C. Dolley, they said. According to Moore, the City Charter requires her to adjust council district boundaries every 10 years when population figures are released by the federal census. All five districts must contain about the same number of people.

Redistricting has never been public in Alhambra, both officials said. Dolley said he received the final district boundaries from demographer Peter A. Morrison, of the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp., four to six weeks ago.

Although Alhambra has districts, the city holds at-large council elections. The system was designed to offer geographic representation while ensuring that all council members are accountable to all voters, city officials said.

Because of that, the changes in district boundaries made by Morrison are not expected to significantly affect election outcomes, although they govern who can run in which district.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, Alhambra is 37% Asian, 36% Latino, 24% Anglo and about 2% African-American. Alhambra's mayor is Latino and the other four council members are Anglo.

Efforts to dilute or strengthen the voting power of specific ethnic groups through redistricting have sparked litigation nationwide.

The city's redistricting out of the public eye alarmed some Asian community residents, who said it is the latest example of how they are excluded from the political process in Alhambra.

The city is still embroiled in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1990 alleging discrimination against Asians, Latinos and African-Americans in the city's hiring and promotion policies. The city denies it ever discriminated.

Mayor Michael A. Blanco said the City Council was eager to avoid the type of litigation that redistricting has prompted from minority groups throughout the country. The city already had been sued by the Department of Justice over alleged discrimination, he said, and wanted to proceed cautiously with redistricting.

"We basically relied on the city attorney to come up with a plan that would hopefully meet any challenge if anyone felt there was a problem," Blanco said. "We were told (by the city attorney) that we had to be careful not to create any ethnic problems with the whole thing, and that he would come up with something that would be satisfactory."

Two before-and-after charts that Morrison submitted to Dolley indicate that Alhambra's various ethnic groups are dispersed fairly evenly throughout the districts, so residents need not be concerned, Dolley and other council members said at the council meeting.

Despite these assurances, residents said they would like to know how their taxpayer dollars are spent, and by whom, and added that they could not interpret the charts contained in the staff report because they give no indication of how the census data is analyzed.

"There were no reports with this. There were no files to see. It was just, 'Take it or leave it.' That's the way everything happens in Alhambra: 'Take it or leave it, or just move,' " resident Elizabeth Mack said.

"The public wasn't informed that a demographer was doing this. What did this information cost the taxpayers?" Mack asked.

Resident Louis Kuan said the contract should have gone out for bid.

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