County Redistricting Committee Ignores Plans From Latinos

Thursday, June 30, 2011 | The committee drawing new boundaries for the Orange County Board of Supervisor's districts Thursday decided not to consider any plans submitted by Latino groups.

The action drew an immediate angry response from leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). They accused the committee, composed of aides to the five supervisors, of placing more importance on re-electing incumbents and keeping city borders intact than in following federal voting laws intended to ensure minorities aren't disenfranchised.

"You have just trashed the U.S. Constitution and the [federal] Voting Rights Act,"  Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana LULAC, told the committee. He accused the committee of basing its decision on "protection of incumbents."

Art Montez, LULAC's public policy director, criticized the committee for not making public the priorities individual members used to narrow the list of plans they will present to the Board of Supervisors.

"We have asked for full disclosure of your [individual] criteria," he said. "We have not received it."

He also directly accused the committee of ignoring plans suggested by LULAC and other Latinos. "You have put in priority the protection of incumbents."

Two supervisors, Shawn Nelson and Janet Nguyen, are eligible to run for re-election. The other three supervisors will be forced from office by term limits within the next three years.

Hernandez quoted what he said was an example of how supervisors' aides were putting politics ahead of communities.

Referring to one of several redistricting proposals submitted by LULAC, a staff email to Hernandez said the plan "places the current First and Fourth District Supervisors in the same district.

"Since these are the only two members of the Board of Supervisors who are not currently in their final term due to term limits, this proposal seriously impacts the ability of the voters to maintain continuity of representation on the Board …"

"We didn't look at where supervisors lived" when drawing the LULAC lines, said Hernandez after the meeting.

Added Montez, "Obviously theirs were drawn based on residency and political problems. Their concern was South County and coastal communities."

More than 20 plans for redrawing boundaries were submitted to the committee in recent weeks. On Thursday the committee narrowed the list to three, one "primary" plan and two alternates that the board will consider when adopting final boundaries for their districts.

The plans are posted on the supervisors’ web site. The preferred map is number 21, and the two alternates are 16A and 20A.

The only plans that drew significant committee support were those drafted by the supervisors and their staffs. The board is scheduled to hold a public hearing at the end of July on the plans it wants adopted.

Montez said after the hearing that LULAC already has asked U.S. Department of Justice officials who monitor voting rights issues to keep an eye on what ultimately happens in Orange County.

For example, he and Hernandez said, the county's Asian population has grown significantly in the past 10 years, but the committee, with the exception of Nelson's aide, Denis Bilodeau, didn't discuss the importance of representing communities of interest.

The plans given the go-ahead by the committee diminish both Latino and Asian representation in key areas, he said.

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