Minority Groups Remain Frustrated by County Redistricting Process

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Friday, July 22, 2011 | Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s hopes of changing draft maps of proposed new supervisorial districts were blocked Friday by aides of her colleagues, who voted to stick with existing proposals.

The vote of the county redistricting committee was 3-2 against making changes, with aides to supervisors Bill Campbell, John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson in the majority.

But Campbell, who sat in the back of the unusually crowded meeting to observe the committee actions, indicated afterward that the board itself might make significant changes late next month.

“The board should wait until after the state commission makes is decisions,” said Campbell, referring to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The central question is whether the five-member board will remain entirely in the hands of the Republican party. If supervisors draw lines that create a Latino-majority district, that district would likely elect a Democrat to the board.

Boundaries of the five supervisorial districts, as well as state and congressional offices, are being redrawn as a result of the 10-year national census.

The state commission must have final versions of new legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization maps to the secretary of state by Aug. 15. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss its own remapping plans Aug. 23.

So far, all supervisors except Nguyen have submitted proposals for their aides to discuss, as did members of the Latino and Vietnamese communities.

Both Latinos and Vietnamese have criticized the committee for not doing much of the redistricting work in public.

During their sparsely attended meetings, committee members have heard the public’s concerns and then, with a minimum of discussion, voted their preference for maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.

Each group urged the supervisors’ aides to keep members of their ethnic bloc together in its own district. Concentrations of the two groups are close together in the central area of Orange County. There are fewer Vietnamese than Latinos and not enough of them to create an entirely separate district.

The supervisors’ aides have pitted the Vietnamese, who generally vote Republican, against the Latinos, who usually vote Democratic. The aides have favored districts that generally give some voice to Vietnamese. But they have split the Latino vote in ways that make it difficult for them to win a seat.

The alternative, which so far hasn’t been considered publicly by the committee, is to hold the Vietnamese together as a “community of interest” in one district — most likely Nguyen’s — then create a separate “community of interest” district for Latino voters from neighboring Santa Ana, Anaheim and adjacent Latino neighborhoods.

Communities of interest are generally defined by federal voting rights laws as groups that in the past were deliberately split to prevent them from electing a candidate.

Latino leaders have warned the supervisors and their aides that they face voting rights lawsuits if they don’t consider communities of interest.

Because of changing demographics in Orange County, this year’s remapping process is likely to be the Republican Party’s last chance at drawing lines that give them total control of the board.

Following the vote Friday, Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana division of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), urged supervisors’ aides to work with his and other groups to hold together communities of interest, as the state redistricting commission has been doing.

By keeping a city’s borders intact but splitting adjoining cities into different districts, those who draw political boundaries can split a community of interest whose members may be concentrated in the neighborhoods where the cities meet.

Latinos on the state and county level have argued that Santa Ana and the Anaheim “flatlands” as well as nearby sections of Garden Grove or Orange, are a community of interest that should remain intact. According to census estimates, Orange County’s population is 33.7 percent Latino, but Santa Ana’s is 76 percent. Downtown Anaheim and nearby neighborhoods also have high concentrations of Latinos.

“Where is the community of interest for the Latino community being created?” asked John Palacio, a trustee of the Santa Ana Unified School District, during public comment after the vote. “You’re not even considering it.”

“You’re OK with splitting cities when it meets a political agenda,” said Hernandez.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracy111. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


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