City Attorney Sabotages Redistricting Initiative

By: 
Stephen Downing

Her name is Vy Sron.

She survived the killing fields of the Khmer rouge and found her way to the United States, eventually settling in Long Beach.

She got up each morning at 5 a.m., took three buses from her home in Long Beach seven days a week to work four hours at a donut shop in Orange County and then returned home via the same three-bus journey.

Before going home one day each week, Sron attended a class at the MAYE center along with a group of about 20 Cambodian elders. The class covered an array of topics about the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the United States.

In the Fall of 2017, during one of those classes, Sron asked a simple question of Marc Coleman, a civil rights attorney and one of the instructors: “Why don’t we (Cambodian Americans) have the same political power as other groups.” Coleman replied, “Because your community’s political power has been diluted.”

Dr. Alex Norman, Professor Emeritus of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a longtime civil rights activist was one of the instructors as was Laura Som, director of the MAYE Center.

The response to Sron’s question was based upon the collective observation by the instructors of the 2011 Redistricting process passed by the City Council that left the Cambodian community split between four council districts; the first, second, fourth and sixth.

Sron then asked, “What can we do to obtain the same kind of political power as others?”

That simple question resulted in a petition being delivered to the City Council to correct the historical wrong done to Cambodians by redrawing the council’s boundaries in time for the 2020 election, the formation of a coalition of Cambodian groups called Equity for Cambodians and a campaign to accomplish change in the redistricting process.

According to Dr. Norman, while that process was underway in early 2018 Mayor Garcia approached the Equity for Cambodia leadership and requested that they join his plan to remove the City Council from the redistricting process and institute an Independent Redistricting Commission comprised of citizens without allegiance to protecting the turf of current City Council members as happens historically.

Norman said the city initially drafted the ordinance, but, in a public hearing, Equity for Cambodians, joined by Common Cause, “heavily criticized the draft as fatally flawed, in part because the city retained control over the results.”

As a result of those protests Dr. Norman said, “The mayor then proposed that Equity for Cambodians and Common Cause draft the initiative, which we did.”

According to Dr. Norman the two organizations and their attorneys drafted the initiative with the aim of removing political influence from the redistricting process and established criteria for redistricting that best reflected the diverse characteristics of Long Beach, “in ways that respected ethnic and racial enclaves and other relevant factors.”

The work of the two community organizations resulted in the creation of Measure DDD, which was then placed on the ballot by the City Council and passed overwhelmingly by the electorate.

The result was the creation of the Independent Redistricting Commission with its mandate imbedded in Article XXV of the Long Beach City Charter.

The Commission’s Mandate

The Charter mandate requires the commission to draw districts “as nearly equal as practicable in total populations, in compliance with all federal and state laws, and that are geographically contiguous.”

The Charter requires that “once those criteria are met, the commission shall consider in order of priority a list of eight criteria set for in subdivision (b), including: (1) neighborhoods; (2) communities of interest; (3) neighborhoods and communities sharing a common language, history, culture and identity; (4) topography and geographic features; (5) natural and artificial barriers for boundary lines; (6) compactness; (7) maintaining whole census blocks; and (8) any other criteria the commission approves that do not conflict with the other requirements.”

City Hall Reaction

City Hall is now not pleased with the mandate of the people and – just as they did over 30 years ago when the people established the Citizen Police Complaint Commission – they have initiated – through “legal opinion” – an education process for how the independent commissioners are to think, act and implement what City Hall wants, rather than offering sound legal advice based upon a clear reading of the law as written by those who drafted the language of the initiative that was passed into law by the electorate.

Legal Guns Hired to Sabotage
the Initiative

As the Measure DDD empowered Independent Redistricting Commission began to undertake its Chartered duties, the Framers of Measure DDD learned that the city hired an outside law firm (Olson/Remcho) to produce a legal memo that, “is, despite the voters’ clear intent, an attempt to sabotage the initiative.”

In a June 16 letter to the Independent Commission obtained by the Beachcomber, the framers provided a full analysis of the legal memo divided into the following categories:

1) What Measure DDD requires

2) To arrive at its position, the city goes to illogical and absurd results

3) Existing council district boundaries are the problem, not the solution

4) The legislative history does not support the conclusion that “the commission must consider preservation of existing districts while adjusting boundaries

5) The district boundaries were challenged in 2011 by the Cambodian community

6) The city’s memo confirms that the commission has the power and duty to change council districts as required by the criteria

7) Most likely the city is pushing the use of existing boundaries to avoid having to do the harder work of demographic and topographic analyses that meets the requirements of the criteria

8) When in doubt ask the drafters about the issue and

9) The independent Redistricting Commission needs independent counsel.

Measure DDD Subversion

According to the Framers, the most offensive legal opinion advanced in the Olson/Remcho memo instructs the independent commissioners to respect existing district boundaries when undertaking their duties.

In their letter of response the framers pointed to the plain language of the Charter to explain that the Charter does not require the commissioners to do any such thing.

They wrote: “The redistricting criteria are very clear, and they are set forth in a specific rank order that means something.”

They wrote: “This omission in the drafting was deliberate. Indeed, the very point of Measure DDD was to change existing boundaries to reflect the criteria set for in Section 2506.”

The framers further stated, “To use existing council boundaries as a starting point is a slap in the face to the people of the City of Long Beach who overwhelmingly wanted different criteria than those previously used and, perforce, different results.”

The framers pointed out to the commissioners that “Using existing council boundaries as a starting point unjustifiably prejudices the process in favor of what we already have. Nothing in the plain language of Article XXV supports this interpretation while everything else discourages it.”

The letter condemned the law firm memo, stating that it “distorts the spirit and letter of Article XXV of the Long Beach City Charter found at Section 2500 – 2510” and told the commissioners that the law firm’s historical representation “is not separate from your work. It is the basis of your work.”

The letter pointedly advised the commissioners that, “the city, through the city attorney’s office, can only speculate what the framers of DDD intended because they have never asked us.”

They wrote: “This is not a situation where the drafters are long gone, and attorneys must speculate about what was intended. If the city attorney’s office or the commission has any questions about what was intended in the framing of Measure DDD, ask us. We are around and available for questions.

“Both Common Cause and Equity for Cambodians are deeply critical of any interpretation of the City Charter that circumvents the commitment to equity and diversity which the framers had in mind.”

The letter, addressed to the newly appointed Independent Redistricting Commissioners concluded, “You have the ability to reject the city’s analysis and follow the law as written. In the interest of our community, we respectfully ask you to do so.”

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police. Stephen.Beachcomber@Gmail.com

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Comments

Before this was voted on my brother and I warned the Cambodian community at the Maye Center that they'd get stabbed in the back by the city officials.

From the beginning it is clear that Mayor Robert Garcia did not intend this to be any more meaningful than the CPCC as Stephen Downing states in the article, after all, the mayor wanted to appoint all the "independent" commissioners!

It wasn't until the Cambodian community with assistance from Dr. Alex Alex J. Norman approached Common Cause for assistance in drafting a thoroughly vetted measure (Measure DDD) that was voted on by the public.

Still, even though the measure as finally written wrested control out of the mayor's grubby little hands, our fear was that the Ethics Commission got to appoint the Redistricting Commission's members. Yet the Ethics Commission itself was controlled by City Hall (the mayor and the city auditor have control the majority of its members in perpetuity) and it had none of the membership safeguards of the Redistricting Commission. For example, Mayor Garcia could appoint to the commission his favorite campaign donors and lobbyists.

Ultimately we didn't guess that the attempt to influence the Redistricting Commission would be through the City Attorney. Regardless, the effect is the same.

No commission should be beholden to city hall! The proposed amendments to the Citizens Police Complaint Commission, already in the works by the police in a clear case of the fox guarding the hen-house, should be stopped, and a completely new Citizens Police Oversight Commission should be formed completely independent from city hall.

Why should we be surprised? The city of LB, its police dept. and the city attorney's office are all corrupt. They will do what ever it take to lie ,cheat and steel, from the tax payer. Long Beach is the only city in the USA where all city departments work together to hide their misconduct. This city needs to be investigated by the Fed's as a criminal origination just like the the city of bell was. Every week we read a story of corruption with the city of LB and its police department and nothing is ever done and no one is ever held accountable. SMH when will anything ever be done?

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