A coalition of Latino community groups is threatening to sue over the new council district map that may be decided on Thursday night, saying the new configuration endangers future representation of a Downtown council district that has become a dependable Latino seat.
The Long Beach Coalition of Latino Organizations said District 1 is in danger of losing Latino representation if any of the proposed maps move forward as drawn. The coalition is made up of five groups including Centro CHA, Latinos in Action, and the California-Mexico Studies Center.
A press conference is planned for Thursday evening, ahead of the Independent Redistricting Commission meeting.
Four of the last five council members who have represented Long Beach’s 1st District, which currently includes part of Downtown, the Port of Long Beach, and the Willmore, Washington, and St. Mary area, have been Latino.
Current Councilwoman Mary Zendejas was preceded by now state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, who replaced Robert Garcia after he was elected as mayor. The changes to the composition of the district caused by the new boundaries could be a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, the coalition said.
“The reality is that if this is done the way that it’s being done, we’re going to lose the 1st District,” Armando Vasquez-Ramos, a senior advisor for the coalition, said in an interview Thursday. “We need to evaluate it now and take it to the mat to see if we can force them to make some changes.”
Latinos make up 43% of the city’s population, the largest ethnic group, yet just two members of the nine-person City Council—Zendejas and Councilman Roberto Uranga in the 7th District—are Latino. The other districts where Latinos make up a majority of eligible voters include District 6 in Central Long Beach, District 8 in Bixby Knolls and North Long Beach, and District 9 in North Long Beach.
The Independent Redistricting Commission has been haggling over proposed maps for the last month. Two maps have advanced to the final stage of deliberations, both of which would push the 1st District east, absorbing all of the East Village and the Downtown waterfront.
A result of the changes in the district boundaries is that the Latino citizen voting-age population, the percent of people eligible to vote, would drop from 44.7% to 37.5% in the new 1st District.
Latinos would still be the largest eligible voting bloc in the district, but the group’s differential from the “other” group, a designation commonly used for White voters, would drop from about 15% to 3.5%.
The maps would also increase the eligible Latino voter percentage in the 7th District, where Uranga has served for the past eight years despite Latinos being the second-largest voting population in that district. The 7th District would see its Latino voter age population increase by 8.6% in both maps under consideration.
Under the council district map adopted in 2011, four council districts are majority Latino by voting age.
Vasquez-Ramos said the maps under consideration Thursday are complicated by the fact that they have drawn District 2 Councilwoman Cindy Allen into the new 1st District, which means Allen, who is White, could challenge Zendejas for her seat in the June 2022 election instead of finishing her term as the 2nd District representative.
Vasquez-Ramos said Allen has already threatened to run against Zendejas, but Allen said Thursday she hasn’t made a decision about her political future.
Allen, a retired police officer and businesswoman, is eligible to finish her term that runs through December 2024 but then would have to relocate to the new 2nd District to run for re-election.
She said she has not ruled out challenging for the 1st District seat next year.
“This is where I live,” Allen said. “I own two homes, I had my businesses here. Being drawn out would be problematic. There is a chance that I would run (for District 1) if I’m drawn out.”
Allen added that the choice would be hard considering that she considers Zendejas a friend and an ally.
“No one is happy about this situation,” Allen said.
A letter sent to the commission Thursday asks for a small change to the map that the coalition says would not dilute the voting power of Latinos.
The group is proposing a swap that would put the neighborhood surrounding the Museum of Latin American Art into the new 1st District in exchange for the Downtown waterfront between the 710 Freeway and Alamitos Avenue to be put back into the new 2nd District.
The move would put Allen back into the 2nd District and eliminate the scenario of her running against Zendejas next June.
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