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Board's map fight goes unnoticed

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina proposes carving a new Latino-majority district out of Zev Yaroslavsky's constituency, prompting a fight that voters are barely aware of.

August 30, 2011|Steve Lopez

On a blistering day in Huntington Park, I walked into a barbershop and put the owner on the hot seat. I asked if he knew which member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors represents the area.

When Benjamin Hernandez said no, I asked if the name Gloria Molina rang a bell.

Yes, he said, but he didn't know much about her.

How about Zev Yaroslavsky?

Never heard of him.

There's a slim chance, I told Hernandez, that Yaroslavsky could replace Molina as the rep for the area. He gave me a look that said: Yeah, whatever.

A torrid little tiff is brewing between supervisors as they argue over competing plans to redraw district boundaries. But most people don't feel much of a connection to the five supes, despite their being among the most powerful politicians in the United States, with each of them representing roughly 2 million people in a county with a $24-billion budget.

Supervisors Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas insist the county needs to create a second district with a Latino majority in order to comply with federal laws protecting minority voting rights. At the moment, in a county that is now 48% Latino, only one district has a majority Latino population, and it's represented by Molina.

So the idea for a second district seems only fair. But the supes are odd ducks who would have trouble agreeing on the time of day, let alone agree on carving up one another's precious fiefdoms.

This is the body that royally screwed up on King/Drew Medical Center, allowing a horrible situation to fester while patients died. The same crew that can't figure out how to keep kids from dying while in the care of the county welfare agency, which has just burned through not one, not two, but THREE chiefs in nine months.

They are the last people on the planet, in other words, who should have the politically hairy job of redrawing their own district boundaries and picking their own constituents. But switching to the kind of citizen panel that just redrew state legislative and congressional districts would require a charter change, and that's not likely any time soon.

So three of the supervisors have come up with their own maps, and they're works of art. You'd think Molina used a spin-art machine, or closed her eyes, except a closer look reveals a couple of carefully placed bubbles. One of the bubbles happens to be where Yaroslavsky lives, with Molina sticking his Mid-City L.A. neighborhood into a disjointed district stretching from the northeast San Fernando Valley to South Gate and beyond. Molina's other bubble keeps her Mount Washington home in precisely the district she wants to serve.

"A baldfaced gerrymander," screamed Yaroslavsky, who would inconveniently lose the West Valley neighborhoods that have been reelecting him for years. Those folks would inherit Supervisor Don Knabe, meaning that they'd be represented by someone they didn't vote for.

When I explained to a woman across the street from the Huntington Park barbershop that the whole idea was to create a second Latino district, she said, "But we would lose a Latino?" That's right, you'd lose Molina and pick up Señor Yaroslavsky.

I know, it's crazy. But Yaroslavsky is termed out in two years and probably will run for mayor of L.A., so this might be a great opportunity for Zev to learn some Spanish.

Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies summed up the whole thing with just three words:

"It's a mess."

A mess with no easy fix, and any plan would need four votes to pass. So the Molina plan is probably doomed, as is one by Ridley-Thomas, who wants to make Knabe's district the new Latino district, an idea that gives Knabe fits because he's a Republican who would have to run in an entirely different district in the next election to keep his seat.

Republican Supervisor Mike Antonovich — perhaps best known for his wacko Christmas cards, the pet circus he runs at board meetings and for insisting on being called Mayor Mike — will probably back Knabe, fearing with justification that one big motive for the map tinkering is to create not just a second Latino district but a fourth Democratic district.

Yaroslvavsky, meanwhile, wonders if all the disruption is necessary to achieve a more representative board, given the fact that white voters have elected Latinos like L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Look, a second Latino district would be nice. But supervisors' time might be better spent addressing the needs of all county residents regardless of race or location. And greater emphasis on voter registration might go a long way toward producing the desired balance, because although Latinos make up almost half the population, they represent only one-third of registered voters.

Monday afternoon, I drove to Tarzana to see how people feel about the prospect of losing Yaroslavsky and inheriting Knabe, and I think I can say they're not going to notice the change any more than the folks in Huntington Park.

At a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard, I walked into 11 shops and asked if anyone knew which supervisor represents the area.

At Subway, the clerk drew a blank, as did two customers, one of whom said, with emphasis, "I would have no idea." I got the same at Fast Signs, Supercuts, Ace Cash Express, Cafe du Liban, China Cafe, Barbecues Galore, the Goodwill Donation Center, Eye Image Optical, the Mattress Store and Game Stop.

Eleven attempts, 11 goose eggs.

If our virtually anonymous supervisors can't agree on a plan, by the way, the job of drawing new boundaries will be handed to Baca, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, and someone nobody but his immediate family has ever heard of — county Assessor John Noguez. And if they're busy, maybe Lindsay Lohan, George Lopez and Jamie McCourt could step in.

Come on, you'd pay attention at least. Right?

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