BELLFLOWER — It’s official. Residents on Nov. 8, 2016 will vote on whether to divide the city into five voting districts. The City Council approved the election on a 5-0 vote Sept. 28 after the state-mandated third and final public hearing.
If approved by voters next year, the first election of City Council members by district instead of citywide will be in November 2018 or March 2019, depending on whether the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters consolidates all municipal elections to fall in even-numbered years.
If district voting is rejected by voters, the issue will be over as the city will have complied with terms of an out-of-court settlement to halt a costly lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who alleged the at-large voting system is unfair to members of minorities, Mayor Scott Larsen said.
However, other minority groups could bring up similar charges in future lawsuits, Larsen noted.
City Attorney Joseph Pannone Sept. 28 denied charges by some that the at-large elections are illegal, saying the city had a good chance of winning the lawsuit but decided against fighting the suit because of the expense involved.
As part of its action Sept. 28, the council unanimously selected Map A from six proposed maps, saying Map A divided the city along main roads, with Bellflower Boulevard dividing the east and west districts and Somerset Boulevard dividing the north and south districts.
“Concept A is the best for all the community,” Larsen said.
“It’s the least gerrymandered,” City Councilman Ron Schnablegger said.
“There is no perfect solution to evenly divide the city, but Map A comes closest. It keeps communities of interest together,” City Councilman Sonny Santa Ines said.
Maps A, B and C were proposed by Douglas Johnson of the National Demographics Corp., hired by the city. Two maps were proposed by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), which supported the lawsuit. A sixth map, keeping one district entirely south of the Artesia (91) Freeway, was submitted by John Butts, a local contractor with offices in the south part of the city.
The proposed District 1 generally extends across the northern part of Bellflower between Foster Road and Somerset. District 2 is on the east side of Bellflower Boulevard and District 3 on the west side, generally between Somerset and Maple Street. Proposed District 4 is in the southwest part of the city west of Bellflower Boulevard and District 5 is in the southeast part, east of Bellflower Boulevard and generally between Maple Street and the south city limits.
However, District 5 protrudes north of Maple to include the City Hall, County Courthouse and library.
Statistics provided by Johnson and based on voting age population show that Hispanics range from 39 percent to 55 percent in the various districts with a total average of 48 percent.
Caucasians range from 18 percent to 30 percent, with a total average of 23 percent; African Americans range from 7 percent to 15 percent, with a total average of 14 percent; and Asian Americans range from 12 percent to 14 percent in various districts, with a total average of 14 percent.
Sixteen persons spoke in the hour-long public hearing, some supporting the district plan, others against it, saying it was a waste of taxpayers money.
Larsen said the plaintiffs did not personally get any money, but the city agreed to pay their attorney fees of $250,000. City Manager Jeff Stewart estimated the added costs of the demographer and special 2016 election from $50,000 to $100,000.
“Voting by district is important,” said Luis Melliz, one of the plaintiffs along with another Latino and an African-American woman. “We need a more representative government.”
Division into districts was also supported by former Assemblywoman Sally Havice, and John P. Drayer, a Bellflower resident, currently a member of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees.
A number of students from a government class at Bellflower High School attended the meeting and several spoke against the district plan.
One student said she does not believe the city discriminates and that three minority candidates who brought the suit after being unsuccessful in an election did not try hard enough.
An African-American student said she believes division of the city would diminish the voting power of the black community by placing members in separate voting areas.
Former City Councilman Joe Cvetko was opposed to carving the city up into districts, predicting that council members would compete for resources for their respective districts, possibly resulting in corruption and greed.
“We should not let malcontents spoil our decent government” Cvetko said. “Say no to districting.”