Redistricting Means Change and Latinos Need to Get Involved

Latinos have been significantly absent from the public hearing process which redraws L.A. City Council district lines

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: February 8, 2012

Redistricting Means Change and Latinos Need to Get Involved

Redistricting is the process of drawing district boundaries for voting. Every 10 years, cities and states redraw district lines. As Arturo Vargas, head of the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission (LACCRC), which is charged with redrawing the lines for the city's 15 council districts, says, "Redistricting means change."

As the population of Latinos continues to grow in various parts of the U.S., there's been a concerted effort to redraw districts to extend Latinos' ability to elect the candidates of their choice. To reflect L.A.'s significant Latino population growth, the LACCRC's draft map, released on January 25, increased the number of majority-minority council districts from four to five.

Good news for Latinos, but there's just one catch: Latinos have been significantly absent from the public hearing process. And without their input, boundary lines could change. To encourage Latinos to participate in the last series of public hearings and to learn what's at stake in their communities, Vargas was joined by two members of the commission along with Fernando Guerra, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and redistricting expert, to speak to a few media Latino representatives.

Their message: Latino individuals, neighborhood groups and organizations, large and small, need to get involved and learn what's at stake for their community before the final map goes to the City Council on March 1.

Guerra gave a brief overview of how district lines were historically drawn to keep Latinos from consolidating enough power to elect a Latino city council member. "Reapportionment has played a role in the disenfranchisement of Latinos," he said.

Although Henry Roybal served as council of the Ninth district from 1949 to 1962, at which time he moved on to the U.S. Congress in 1963, it wasn't until 1985 that Richard Alatorre was elected to represent the 14th District. With continued changes in the criteria on how districts are drawn, "Latinos are now at the table, protecting Latino seats," said Guerra.

Jackie Dupont-Walker, a commissioner on the LACCRC representing the 13th district, spoke of the importance of meeting legal requirements, including provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act, in drawing district lines, as well as the role played by Neighborhood Councils. She emphasized that redistricting is a work in progress; even after the Commission presents its final maps to the City Council, boundaries could be changed. "It's still up for grabs," she said, and that's why community input is needed every step of the way.

Vargas spoke of equalizing the dynamics of each council district. "We're trying to take fragmented communities and unite them, and keep united communities united," he said. In the 14th district, for example, the commission's draft map united Highland Park, which is presently divided into two council district, bringing them together into one district that also includes Lincoln Park and Boyle Heights.

He, too, spoke of the importance of Latino participation in the redistricting process: "I'm very interested in hearing from community members, Latino organizations, major groups and smaller groups." He mentioned that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) submitted a map of all 15 districts for the commission's consideration.

Appointed by Jose Huizar, council member of the 14th district, commissioner Antonio Sanchez spoke of how he is personally charged with engaging Latinos. "Hearing from Latinos is how we weigh input. Folks are submitting maps by hand and using the software we offer on the our website."

He encouraged Latinos to get out to the hearings, write letter or send emails. "We have been hearing from lots of English-speaking Latinos, but not enough from Spanish-speakers. We have translation services at the hearings, which have been helpful."

Here are resources that can help you get more acquainted with the L.A. City Council redistricting process:

Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission (LACCRC) website

Jauary 25, 2011 Draft Map

"Draw the Districts" application allows anyone to go online and draft their own version of the map for submission to the committee.

Here's a schedule for public hearings, where community members can give their input:

LA City Council Redistricting Commission at LA City Hall

LA City Council Redistricting Commission at Studio City

LA City Council Redistricting Commission in South LA

Other key actions and dates:

Feb. 22, 2012 - Presentation and Adoption of Final Council District Boundaries Map

Feb. 29, 2012 - Presentation and Adoption of Final Commission Report

Mar. 1, 2012 - Final Commission Report Submitted to City Council

Mar. 16, 2012 - Commission Presentation on Final Report to City Council's Rules and Elections Committee

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