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Broad Support Seen for LBCC Voting Plan : Education: Proposal to elect college trustees by district aims to improve the ethnic diversity of the board. It has received virtually no criticism.

August 29, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH AREA — For the last 15 years, Long Beach City College has been governed by an all-white board of trustees as the student body and city became increasingly diverse.

Last week, however, the trustees unanimously approved a new election process aimed at creating a more diverse college board that reflects the community.

Under the plan, trustees would be elected from five separate areas within the city college district, rather than at-large. Some of the areas have a high percentage of minority residents, which would presumably increase the chances of minority candidates, officials said.

"I imagine that when we get this (plan) in place, we will probably have two minorities on the board," said Trustee William G. Millington, who chaired the committee that drew up boundaries for the five areas within the city college district.

Although the plan still has to be approved by a county education office committee on school organization and then by voters next April, some supporters say they are optimistic.

William C. Barnes, dean of the college's Pacific Coast Campus, said he thinks Long Beach voters will embrace the new format. "They'll start to realize that five white people elected at-large can no longer represent the entire community. It's an embarrassment in the 1990s to deny representation (to minorities) in a district the size and ethnic makeup of this one."

The population of Long Beach, which constitutes the bulk of the city college district, is more than 50% minority, according to the 1990 Census. But no minority has even run for a seat on the board since the governing body was established in 1978, college officials said. The district also encompasses Signal Hill, Avalon and parts of Lakewood.

If the plan is approved by voters next spring, elections by district will be held in April, 1996. All five trustee positions will be on the ballot.

Each area will have about 90,000 residents, cutting down on campaign expenses for mailers, campaign signs and precinct walkers, supporters say.

"Without these districts, the chances of any person of color being elected is slim or none," Barnes said.

In the past, the college district elections have drawn little attention. In 1992, when four candidates ran for two open seats, just 14% of the voters turned out.

Since the trustees' plan to increase minority representation has come to the forefront, however, community leaders say there is increased interest in the positions.

"I never even knew who was running," said Gladys Guttierez, the district representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "Now we are already starting to think about candidates."

The board began considering a switch to district elections after a similar move by the Long Beach Unified School District, which serves virtually the same area as the college district. The Long Beach school board, which was all-white, switched from at-large elections to district elections in 1988. Voters that year elected the board's first African-American, Bobbie Smith, and first Latina, Jenny Oropeza.

Three city college trustees--Millington, E. Gerrie Schipske and Judith Olmstead Powell--promised during their last election campaigns to support district elections.

"It's been a long journey to get to this point," Powell said last week. "Now it's up to the voters."

Millington, who chaired the committee that drew up the Long Beach City College election districts, said he has heard almost no complaints. In four public meetings, he said, just one person expressed opposition.

"There are always people who will say, 'What we want are the best candidates, no matter their color,' " he said. "But the problem is that we have no diverse representation on the board."

The five trustees have professional backgrounds, and four of them live on the east side of Long Beach. Millington is a semi-retired USC professor, Donald M. Weaver is a retired aerospace engineer, Schipske and Trudy Polsky are attorneys, and Powell is a high school English teacher.

"How many of these trustees do you think deal with members of the minority communities on a daily basis?" asked Guttierez. "How often do they go to meetings in (minority) neighborhoods? How often do they talk to students who are black, Latino or Asian? I would say not very often."

The board came under fire from the Latino community earlier this year when trustees voted 3 to 2 to hire Barbara Adams, an Anglo without a doctorate, as new college president. The board passed over three Latino applicants who had doctorates in education.

Adams, who arrived on campus in June from her previous job at Las Positas College in Northern California, said last week she was "very, very pleased" with the board's decision to create the new districts. "It really shows the spirit of cooperation among all the diverse communities in Long Beach," she said.

Guttierez, a member of the 11-member committee that helped draw up the districts, said last week that the new plan is a step in the right direction.

"We stand an excellent chance to have a diverse board now," she said. Proposed Districts

Ethnic breakdown of Long Beach City College population by voting district.

AREA 1 AREA 2 AREA 3 AREA 4 AREA5 Latino 21.7% 34.7% 39.1% 11% 9.4% Anglo 48.3% 17.3% 32.6% 78.2% 82.6% Black 17.2% 22.8% 13.6% 4.6% 2.1% Asian 11.9% 24.5% 13.% 5.6% 5.3% American Indian 0.6% 0.3% 0.6% 0.5% 0.5% Other 0.3% 0.3% 0.3% 0.1% 0.1% Population 95,030 92,474 90,939 92,165 94,330

Source: Long Beach City College

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