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Obituaries

R. Calderon, 68; Chicano Activist in L.A.

September 22, 2004|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Richard M. Calderon, a leading Chicano activist who is perhaps best remembered as the taxpayer whose name was given to a state Supreme Court decision that changed the way Los Angeles apportioned its City Council districts, has died. He was 68.

Calderon, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress and later for Los Angeles City Council, died Thursday of cancer at his home in Chula Vista, according to his sister, Vivian Calderon Zaks.

The decision in Calderon vs. Los Angeles compelled the city to apportion council districts on the basis of total population rather than on the number of registered voters. The court ruled in 1971 that the city's practice of apportioning on the basis of registered voters was unconstitutional because it resulted in lower representation for racial and ethnic minorities.

Calderon and two other taxpayers, John McKee Pratt and Mildred L. Waters, filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in 1968 with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A year after the state Supreme Court decision, the City Council amended the charter to provide that the council's districts be drawn on the total population of the city and that each district should contain, as nearly as practicable, 1/50 of the total population. There would be 15 council districts under this new charter.

The city was compelled to redraw its districts again in 1985 after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit alleging the earlier redistricting violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department stated that by dividing the Latino community among seven council districts, the city had deliberately diluted the strength of Latino voters.

The Justice Department noted that while Latino voters represented 27.5% of the city's population, they were represented by just a single Latino councilman. In response, the city adopted a new districting plan creating a second Latino majority district, and the suit was dropped.

Born in Los Angeles, Calderon was the second of six children. His father was a factory worker and his mother, who is now 94, was a homemaker. Calderon was raised in East Los Angeles, graduating from Garfield High School, East Los Angeles College and Cal State Los Angeles.

After college, Calderon taught high school before taking a job with the probation department.

He worked as a field deputy for then-Rep. George E. Brown Jr. and, later, Rep. Edward R. Roybal. Calderon served four years on the Democratic State Central Committee and was a former vice president of the statewide Mexican-American Political Assn.

In 1970, Brown, a Democrat, decided to run for U.S. Senate, and Calderon ran unsuccessfully for his seat in a district that stretched from Silver Lake to San Gabriel and Rosemead.

In 1974, Calderon left his posts as health services administrator for Los Angeles County and member of the city's Civil Service Commission to run for City Council. The race was an effort to recall Councilman Arthur Snyder. But despite running in a heavily Latino district, one that had been reapportioned two years earlier, Snyder defeated the recall effort handily. Candidate Calderon ran second in the five-candidate field if the recall had succeeded.

In 1977, Calderon began work as administrator of the Edward R. Roybal Comprehensive Health Care Center in East Los Angeles, a post he held until his retirement in 1991.

After his retirement, he moved to Rosarita Beach in Baja and lived there until he moved to Chula Vista recently for medical treatment.

In addition to his mother, Amelia, and his sister Vivian, Calderon is survived by his companion, Alicia Villavicencio; a son, Eli; brothers Ralph and Raymond; and sisters Dolores Halel and Virginia Chavez Sierra.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Nuestra Senora de Soledad Church, 4561 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., in Los Angeles.

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