After hearing six hours of testimony, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted today to approve a status-quo redistricting map, denying Latino activists' quest for a second Latino seat.
The vote hinged on Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who had proposed a map that would create a second Latino seat. Ridley-Thomas' map failed on a 3-2 vote. After first voting against the status-quo map, he changed his vote and supported it, providing the fourth vote needed for approval.
That prevented the issue from going to a three-member committee, composed of the District Attorney, the Assessor and the Sheriff. But the issue may not be over yet. as Latino civil rights groups are preparing to sue.
By way of explanation, Ridley-Thomas said that approving a map would hasten a legal challenge. In his remarks, he all but invited Latino activists to sue the county.
"When there is no compromise, a court will decide," Ridley-Thomas said. "I think we ought to in fact hasten getting us to closure."
More than 800 people signed up to speak at the meeting -- far more than for any issue in recent memory. The supervisors bused in their own supporters, and estimates put the total crowd at 1300.
It was a divisive day of testimony. Supporters of a second Latino seat called upon a century's worth of racial and ethnic discrimination in L.A. County, arguing that redress is still required. In her remarks, Supervisor Gloria Molina cited vagrancy laws targeted at Latinos, forced sterilizations, and the location of freeways and industrial facilities in Latino neighborhoods.
"This board is obligated to create two Latino opportunity districts," Molina said. "I urge the board to do the right thing. Let's make history, not repeat it."
Opponents of the new seat argued that it was unfair to create a new Latino seat at the expense of other groups, or at the cost of dividing up communities. Many also argued that it was reductive to draw districts based on race.
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"Hanging on to the legal battles of 20 years ago does nothing to move us forward," said Supervisor Don Knabe. "Our job is to represent all people -- all ethnicities -- in L.A. County."
Ridley-Thomas held out as long as he could for a second Latino district, earning plaudits from the Latino community. But in the end, he and Molina simply did not have the votes, and Ridley-Thomas did not want to turn the matter over to the three-member panel -- which he called "an untested appeal process."
So in all likelihood, the case will end up in court. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has threatened to sue. Latino experts have argued that non-Latinos still vote against Latino candidates in overwhelming numbers -- which triggers a requirement to create Latino-majority districts where it is possible.
The county's lawyers have disagreed, citing the success of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other Latino officials as proof that non-Latinos can cross over and support Latino candidates.