July 28, 2000

Justice Department Sues California Water District Over Redistricting Plan For Its Board of Directors

Washington, D.C. — The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District in Los Angeles County, California was sued Friday because the redistricting plan used for electing the District's Board of Directors does not provide an equal opportunity for Hispanic citizens to participate in the electoral process, the Justice Department announced.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that the Upper District's redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting strength of the Upper District's Hispanic citizens.

"The Voting Rights Act guarantees that minority citizens have the opportunity for meaningful participation in the democratic process," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "We feel today's lawsuit will help bring down the barriers preventing the Upper District's Hispanic citizens from having an equal opportunity to elect representatives to the governing Board of the Upper District."

The Upper District's Board of Directors consists of five members who are elected from single-member Divisions to four-year staggered terms. According to the 1990 Census, Hispanic persons constitute approximately 42 percent of the Upper District's voting age population. The Justice Department's complaint alleges that two Divisions can be drawn in which Hispanics comprise a majority of the voting age citizens. However, the complaint alleges that the fragmentation of cities and other areas with high Hispanic concentrations, in combination with racially polarized voting, results in a dilution of the voting strength of the Hispanic community in the Upper District, in violation of Section 2. The complaint alleges that although nine Hispanic candidates have run for a Director position, no Hispanic candidate has been elected in the Upper District's forty-year history, and that Hispanic voters in the Upper District are politically cohesive, but that non-Hispanic voters usually vote as a bloc to defeat Hispanic voters' candidates of choice.

The lawsuit is the result of an extensive investigation conducted by the Civil Rights Division into the Upper District's electoral practices and history. In June 2000, the Justice Department notified the Upper District that the current configuration of its Division boundaries violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Efforts to reach a settlement thus far have been unsuccessful.

The lawsuit seeks a change in the internal Division boundaries to provide Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

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