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Redistricting panel is expected to approve new maps

A panel drawing boundaries for new political districts must to take a final vote Monday despite complaints from politicians and interest groups.

August 13, 2011|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times

Although the scramble to stake out territory in California's new political districts has been under way for weeks, the citizen commission that is drawing the boundaries won't take a final vote on them until Monday.

The panel is expected to ratify its maps despite unhappiness over them among some politicians and interest groups. The commission has accepted public comment on the maps as they have progressed, but it has been advised by its legal counsel that it cannot make changes now without having to start the review period again and blowing its Aug. 15 constitutional deadline.

Each map needs at least three yes votes from each of the groups that make up the commission — five Republicans, five Democrats and four independents. The lines for any set of maps — legislative, congressional or Board of Equalization districts — that fails to win approval will be drawn by three "special masters" appointed by the state Supreme Court.

Interactive: See how your districts have changed

Those who are unhappy, including the California Republican Party, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and some individuals upset by new alignments of their communities, have the option of asking the courts to overturn the maps or of seeking a voter referendum.

To ensure that any legal issues are resolved in time for next year's elections, court challenges would go directly to the state's high court, according to the framers of the new system. For any maps the court might set aside, its special masters would make new ones.

Those seeking a referendum would have 90 days to collect at least 504,760 voter signatures to put the matter on the June ballot. The court would draw new lines to use in elections in the meantime. If voters rejected the commission's lines, the court's maps would be in effect until the next redistricting, in 2021.

Voters took the once-a-decade job of adjusting political districts to reflect population changes away from the Legislature in 2008 and gave it to the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission. The panel was required to create districts of equal population, follow the federal Voting Rights Act to ensure minorities have opportunities to elect representatives of their choice and keep communities of interest together when possible, among other criteria.

The maps it released July 29 started the clock running on a 14-day public review period before Monday's ratification deadline.

Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the GOP is weighing whether to go to court over the maps or seek a referendum, particularly on state Senate and congressional districts.

"Overall, the commission failed to consistently apply the criteria" in drawing legislative and congressional maps and split some communities of interest, Del Beccaro said in an interview this week. "In the state Senate, there are no less than 11 seats — 25% of the seats — that potentially violate the Constitution."

But court battles and, especially, a referendum could be costly, and there is no guarantee the groups would be any happier with the court's maps.

"It could be a pretty high-stakes gamble that they'd get better lines," said Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell.

Also considering a lawsuit is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, whose leaders feel Latinos may have lost ground, despite their rapid population growth in California and regardless of some new seats, including an open congressional district in the northeast San Fernando Valley whose makeup is largely Latino.

Some areas now represented by Latinos have been redrawn in ways that could make it tougher for Latinos, especially non-incumbents, to win the seats, said Steven Ochoa, the group's national redistricting coordinator. Many of the new districts have fewer Latinos; some have more Republican voters, and Latinos have tended to vote Democratic.

"Across the board — in the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, San Diego, San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles County — there were a lot of missed opportunities" to draw districts that reflect Latinos' growing presence, Ochoa said.

Interactive: See how your districts have changed

jean.merl@latimes.com

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