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Critics say new council districts hinder Latino candidates

Politicians and advocacy groups also charge that revised boundaries aid certain political contenders.

February 23, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

Politicians, advocacy groups and neighborhood activists warned Wednesday that boundary lines drawn up by the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission for new council districts will reduce the number of Latino lawmakers and favor certain candidates in coming years.

Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said the map released last week was drawn to help his likely opponent in the upcoming election in a Westlake-to-Lincoln Heights district. Cedillo said his home was cut out of the district now represented by Councilman Ed Reyes, who leaves office in June 2013.

Cedillo is running against Jose Gardea, who is backed by Reyes and is the councilman's chief of staff. Gardea lives in Councilman Jose Huizar's district but, under the latest plan, would live in Reyes' district.

"It's very evident that they cut me out," said Cedillo, who added that the proposed district boundaries would force him to move to continue his council campaign.

Cedillo's complaint was one of several lodged by individuals and civic groups during the mapmaking process, which occurs once every decade and has drawn complaints from neighborhoods as varied as downtown, Sherman Oaks, Sunland-Tujunga and Westchester.

Officials with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund contend that the latest plan would not ensure that five Latino council members have a strong chance of getting elected. Steven Ochoa, the group's national redistricting coordinator, said the commission wrongly identified Councilwoman Jan Perry's proposed district, which takes in the eastern flank of South Los Angeles, as a Latino district.

Ochoa said that even though a majority of that district's voting age citizens would be Latino, long-standing voting patterns would still favor an African American candidate. Alan Clayton, a longtime redistricting expert, said a Latino candidate could only win in Perry's district under a narrow set of circumstances.

"If two blacks and a Latino ran and the two blacks fought in the primary, and one of the two was weak and had no money, then yeah, a Latino could win," he said.

Clayton and Ochoa said the commission should keep three black districts intact while redrawing the 13th District, which is represented by Councilman Eric Garcetti, to include more Latino voters.

The new map drew favorable reviews from some who attended Wednesday's commission meeting, including residents of Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and Toluca Lake. But in Studio City, neighborhood activists alleged that a San Fernando Valley district was drawn to give Andrew Westall, the commission's executive director, an opportunity to run for a seat that will be vacated by Councilman Tom LaBonge in 2015.

LaBonge's district was reworked last week to include Toluca Lake, where Westall lives. Lisa Sarkin, vice president of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, said the change will divide her community between two council districts.

Westall, who ran for the Assembly two years ago, said he has no interest in seeking LaBonge's seat in 2015. But he would not rule out a political campaign there or elsewhere in later years.

Two council members, Bernard C. Parks and Perry, said they are preparing to sue over the new boundaries. So are activists in Koreatown who want their neighborhood to be placed in a district with Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown, which they said would improve their chances of electing an Asian American candidate.

Cedillo said he called Council President Herb Wesson to complain that his home had been written out of Reyes' district. As a result of the change, Cedillo's side of the street is in Huizar's district while the opposite side is in Reyes'.

The move was led by Commissioner David Trujillo, a Reyes appointee. A Reyes spokeswoman said her boss did not instruct Trujillo to pursue the change, which was described as a way of unifying downtown in a single district.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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