After nearly five hours of public comment, the County Board of Supervisors called its first official public hearing on a county redistricting plan to an end, and set Sept. 27 as the date for the final hearing.
During the hearing, the county heard very two very distinct sets of views on how to redraw the electoral boundaries for the county, with a majority of speakers favoring a plan (called A3) that would result in only minimal changes to the districts, with just over 200,000 people being switched from districts.
A smaller number of speakers backed two plans, S2 and T1, which would result in three of the five districts having Latinos as the largest single ethnic group among the voting age populations, and could result in a Latino-majority board in future elections. More than 3.5 million people would move to a new electoral district in both plans.
Because of legal requirements to hold two public meetings on redistricting, the Board was unable to take any action on Tuesday, and board members did not actually discuss the plans and simply spent the entire hearing listening to speakers.
The speakers came from all over the county, and most were public officials or representatives of neighborhood associations, business groups or nonprofits.
The Santa Monica Mountain Advocates
The largest single block of commenters appeared to come from cities around the Santa Monica Mountains, including Calabasas, Malibu, Agoura Hills and Topanga, and all expressed support for the A3 plan, which would allow them to keep their district intact with the same representative, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Some suggested that South Coast cities, which would become part of their district under the S2 and T1 plans, do not share the same priorities.
Lucy Martin, a Calabasas councilwoman, described the cities as "urban-thinking" and Councilman Lou La Monte of Malibu said that "Malibu’s interests simply are not the same as our South Coast neighbors.'"
Others even suggested that the very fate of the mountains is at stake in the process.
"Without 'A3,' bulldozers are coming our way," said Bruce Benson, a private resident at the meeting.
The high number of speakers on that subject finally prompted Supervisor Gloria Molina, an opponent of the 'A3' plan, to respond.
"With all due respect, I’m trying not to say anything here, but we all do care about the Santa Monica Mountains," Molina said.
Other A3 Proponents
Elsewhere in the county, people voiced similar concerns about being separated from neighbors they had become accustomed to working with.
Several officials from the city of Monrovia, and from the unincorporated part of the community, came out to oppose the community being divided under the T1 and S2 plans. Those plans would also move the district out from the 5th District.
Monrovia Councilwoman Mary Ann Lutz said that while the community could endure being moved to another district, dividing the town into two districts would be a much bigger problem.
"Of course we can work with any supervisor and their team," Lutz said. "Our desire is to continue with stability. ... We urge you to keep Monrovia as whole as possible."
Unlike Monrovia, all three plans have Altadena staying in the 5th District.
Proponents of the S2 and T1 plans focused instead on the importance of having districts where Latinos are likely to be elected--the latest census figures peg the Latino population of the county at around 47 percent. The A3 plan has one district that is more than 70 percent Latino, one around 54 percent, and three that are between 30 percent and 43 percent Latino.
Several speakers pointed out that the one seat that Latinos have had in the county, the 1st District, was only created by the order of a federal court after the 1990 redistricting process. Speakers at the meeting suggested that the A3 plan would again result in the under-representation of Latinos.
"That legacy 20 years ago was a black mark and you have a chance to change that," said Andre Quintero, the mayor of El Monte.
George Brown, an attorney who worked in the state redistricting process, told the board that there is substantial evidence that Latinos vote differently from non-Latinos, which is a criterion for minority protection under the federal Voting Rights Act.
He said that the pattern of "racial polarization" in voting means that the state was advised to create Latino-majority districts in Los Angeles County, and suggested the county needs to consider doing the same.
The issue of whether the A3 plan complies with federal law or not has been debated at past meetings of the Boundary Review Committee, a 10-member committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors to recommend a plan.
The county counsel representing that committee told them an early version of the A3 plan was compliant with federal law. But several other attorneys and redistricting efforts testified that it would likely be considered a violation, and speakers at just about every meeting have suggested that a lawsuit will be likely if the A3 plan is approved.
Much like the speakers at each meeting, the committee ultimately was split over which plans to recommend: the early version of the A3 plan received 6 out of 10 votes, and the original version of the S2 plan received 4 out of 10. Neither plan has changed substantially since then.
If the Board of Supervisors cannot agree on one of the three plans on Sept. 27, a committee made up of representatives of the county Assessor's Office and District Attorney's office will be responsible for coming up with a plan.