The Long Beach Community College District board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to advance a final redistricting map that will keep all incumbents in their districts if the board adopts it ahead of the Feb. 28 deadline to submit a final plan to county election officials.
Board members voted 5-0 to advance a less controversial version of its new district boundaries to its Feb. 23 meeting after a sometimes contentious discussion Tuesday where board members shouted over each other and lobbed accusations of tampering with the map-drawing process and using the maps to settle political disputes.
The redistricting process must be completed by elected bodies every 10 years based on U.S. Census numbers to ensure that voters are given fair representation. While there has been a movement to shift that responsibility out of the hands of politicians, LBCC board members still get to draw their own political lines.
Earlier Tuesday, Trustee Sunny Zia, who would have been drawn out of her district in one draft map under consideration, alleged that the lines were drawn specifically to remove her from her district. Zia’s Area 3 seat is up for election in November.
“It’s shameful,” Zia said Tuesday, alleging that members of the board had worked to remove her through the redistricting process.
If Zia were drawn out she’d have to move to the new Area 3 to be eligible to run for reelection in November or wait until the 2024 election where she might have to challenge an incumbent, something she said she would not rule out.
A number of community members and labor union representatives spoke in favor of Zia and against the version of the map that would remove her, calling the maps that were made public Monday afternoon “highly political” and unnecessary. Some threatened legal action if the map that removed Zia from the district advanced.
Trustee Vivian Malauulu pointed out that during the process that created new City Council district lines two incumbents were drawn out of their districts and said the idea that Zia could be drawn out was nothing personal.
Malauulu questioned why so many people spoke out specifically in Zia’s defense rather than in favor of certain neighborhoods or minority groups being unified, which are issues that are supposed to be considered during map drawing in order to comply with state and federal voting rights issues.
“Every time something happens that Trustee Zia takes something personal, it’s like, I don’t know, what do you do, take out an ad?” Malauulu said. “The press is involved. I mean, wow.”
Incumbents’ home addresses are not supposed to be considered while drawing map boundaries, but the City Council process was riddled with examples of politicians inserting themselves into the process either directly or through surrogates who lobbied on their behalf.
Last month, the Long Beach Independent Redistricting Commission that oversaw the City Council map-drawing process formally asked that changes be made ahead of the 2031 process that could help future commissioners by barring politicians from participating and having lobbyists identify themselves before speaking to the commission.
LBCC board president Uduak-Joe Ntuk said that the changes made to the maps released Monday were because the board wanted to balance populations among the districts and keep certain communities of interest together, noting the board had to decide if it wanted to move Signal Hill into a West Long Beach district or push it into the downtown area that Zia represents.
Ntuk and other members of the board claimed not to know where Zia lived and said they couldn’t consider her home address even if they did. Zia suggested that they had access to her address because of the board’s recent attempt to secure a court order to bar her from portions of meetings.
“You served me with a lawsuit, and you know my address,” Zia said. “All of you do.”
Zia and the board had been embroiled in a public dispute for years. The board voted to censure her in 2019, and, more recently, they clashed over whether she could attend closed-session meetings regarding an investigation that was launched after the board voted to fire former LBCC Superintendent President Regan Romali in Mach 2020.
After nearly a year of seeking to block her from closed session discussions, a judge threw out the case in November, saying that a court order was unnecessary since Zia had voluntarily recused herself from discussions involving her alleged conflicts of interest.
The draft map advanced Tuesday could be approved by the board at its Feb. 23 regular meeting and used to determine eligibility for LBCC district elections for the next 10 years. The board has until the end of the month to submit its final map to Los Angeles County election officials for use in the upcoming election.