LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County is suing the state in an effort to quash a new law that places the task of re-drawing the county’s supervisorial districts in the hands of a 14-member citizens committee.
The county’s complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, seeks an order declaring that the law created by the passage of SB 958 last year is unconstitutional, along with a permanent injunction barring its implementation.
“The State of California has imposed an unfair, unworkable and unconstitutional new redistricting law exclusively on the County of Los Angeles,” the lawsuit alleges.
The state did so “with no rational basis or justification, and absent consultation with Los Angeles County voters, who now find themselves the subjects of an ill-conceived civic experiment that they have no power to fix or to repeal,” the suit says.
The county’s chief executive office issued a statement calling the bill unconstitutional because it singles out Los Angeles County and is counter to constitutional law requiring county offices to be nonpartisan.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, authored SB 958, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October and applies only to L.A. County.
The new law creates a commission whose membership is based on political party registration, which the county says discriminates against independent voters, who make up 25 percent of those registered countywide.
“Instead of choosing the commissioners in a manner that is deliberative and nonpartisan, SB 958 tips the process, promoting partisanship, playing favorites between political parties and unaffiliated voters,” according to the lawsuit.
The 14-member Citizen Redistricting Committee is to be responsible for creating supervisorial district boundaries every 10 years, after each U.S. Census.
Based on registration numbers from October, the county estimates that 70 percent of the commissioners would be Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, and 5 percent would be from smaller parties. Voters who registered without a party preference — the fastest-growing segment of newly registered voters — will not be given equal consideration, according to the county CEO’s office.
…This new law imposes on the citizens of Los Angeles County an experimental system to select a citizen redistricting commission based on luck and chance, not proper public deliberation. County voters cannot change the law if they are dissatisfied,” the statement said.
The county staunchly defended the board’s current “rigorous public redistricting process,” noting that “the last apportionment, which was based on the 2010 Census, included extensive input from county voters and was never challenged in court.”
Latino civil rights advocates did threaten to sue in 2011. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and then-supervisor Gloria Molina pushed the board to create a second majority-Latino district, a move that was the subject of heated debate.
Their motion was rejected on a 2-3 vote in September 2011, with three white male board members arguing that it would move nearly a third of the population into new districts and consolidate areas with little in the way of common interests.
Responding to the county’s suit Tuesday morning, Lara said, “It took a voting rights lawsuit to create the first Latino-majority district on the board more than 20 years ago.”
Asked for his current view, Ridley-Thomas said: “The County of Los Angeles has a duty to protect the rights of its citizens, and that’s why this lawsuit was filed. One million voters — about 25 percent of the electorate in the county — will not have a voice or a say in redistricting just because their political affiliation is independent or they chose not to specify. That’s not right.”
Supporters of the law called it a good government proposal that would make board races more competitive and “help to maintain communities of interests, to ensure groups with similar socioeconomic interests are not negatively impacted by redistricting,” according to a legislative fact sheet issued by Lara’s office.
Lara said he finds it surprising that the Board of Supervisors “would go to court to oppose a law that recognizes Los Angeles’ diversity and promotes transparency in a county whose population is larger than that of 40 states.”
“If the citizens redistricting commission is good enough for the state Legislature and Congress, it should be good enough for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors,” Lara added.
The law’s proponents say they worked to model it after Proposition 11, which created a citizens commission to set the boundaries for state Assembly and Senate districts.
Opponents note that the statewide commission has five Democratic members, five Republican members and four from neither party, unlike the political proportions mandated by SB 958.
The county’s opposition to the law when it was still under debate in the statehouse was never raised during a public hearing. But the county’s legislative representatives began last July to send letters urging Assembly members, senators and Appropriations Committee chairs to vote against it.
Supervisor Hilda Solis wrote a letter to the governor last September seeking his veto of the bill.
While the board’s decisions to litigate are almost always the result of closed-door discussions, opposition to legislation the board doesn’t like — or support for bills they agree with — is often highlighted during public meetings. Those public sessions often end with a vote to send a letter to legislators or the governor signed by all five board members.
Solis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her decision not to bring a motion before the full board.
Though the citizens commission would not be called to redraw boundaries until after the 2020 census, the county said the process of identifying and vetting members needed to begin promptly and asked the court to act quickly in response to its suit.