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Law Firm Memo – Tabled for Months – Questions Central Basin Board’s Redistricting Scheme

March 15, 2024

By Brian Hews • [email protected]

Los Cerritos Community News has obtained an Oct 23, 2023 memo questioning the efforts by certain Central Basin Water Board members to perform a mid-decade redistricting and redrawing of Central Basin district voting boundaries.

It was the same memo that was read to the CB Board at its February 7, 2024 meeting; the reading of said memo was tabled for months by board members who are in favor of the highly questionable redistricting maneuver.

The memo was written by a prominent law firm in the redistricting arena, Sacramento-based Nielsen Merksamer, which was involved in the 2022 CB redistricting process after the 2020 census.

President Michael Gualteri, VP Juan Garza, who was appointed and not elected, and Board members Leticia Vasquez, Wilson, and Martha Camacho Rodriguez are behind the attempt to redistrict, a deliberate gerrymander effort to influence the upcoming Nov 2024 election between Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez so they do not have to run against each other.

But some political operatives are not waiting for the outcome; sources are telling LCCN that attorney Francisco Leal and Richard Polanco, the former California State Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, have pledged put their campaign machines behind Vasquez-Wilson.

Both are affiliated with the lobbying firm Tres Es; Sen. Polanco is “advising” Marvin Pineda’s firm California Advocacy.

And given those connections, no doubt they are going to help CB appointee Juan Garza, who, as exclusively reported by LCCN in November 2023, attempted to coerce then-General Manager Alex Rojas into firing Lucien Partners lobbying firm and hiring California Advocacy.

Rojas was later placed on administrative leave.

In addition, Garza, who is Executive Director of California Cities for Self-Reliance-JPA, a public agency comprised of five member cities with local card club operations that includes Bell Gardens, Commerce, Compton, Cudahy and Hawaiian Gardens, has retained Pineda’s California Advocacy – without sending the contract out to bid as required by law – as its lobbying firm for the past three years.

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Complaining about the process

Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez have been complaining for months that the 2022 redistricting process “was flawed” despite the fact all the appropriate state regulatory agencies approved the plan and it is compliant with all state and federal voting and civil rights laws.

The remaining board members, Directors Art Chacon, James Crawford, and Thomas Bekele, are adamantly against the redistricting; all have voiced concern about the gerrymandering and its cost, which is now tens of thousands of dollars.

And that number could go up as much as $100,000 with the CB Board approval at their last meeting, on a 4-3 vote, of an “audit” of the 2022 redistricting process; Chacon, Crawford and Bekele voted no.

The memo begins by asserting that under the Water Code, the CB Board can adjust the boundaries of any district, but only if certain standards are met; specifically, that a sufficient change in population has occurred “in the opinion of the board” to adjust the boundaries of any district.

Nielsen did not find any case law that defined a “sufficient change in population” but indicated that, if challenged in court, judges would look to related legislative determinations.

The memo also stated that any assertion of a change would be challenged in court because it was an abuse of power by the CB Board .

The only benchmark related to a “sufficient change” is general law cities, which only permit a redraw of city lines if the change is equal to 25% of the city’s population.

Given that CB Districts average 380,000 residents, one district would have to lose more than 95,000 residents to trigger redistricting.

And census data are presumed to be accurate for ten years, any attempt to show a shift in population would have to be based on reliable estimates – costing tens of thousands – using a methodology that is applied uniformly throughout the District.

“I know you know how to read”

Complicating the CB Board’s attempt to interfere in the Nov 2024 CB election, AB 764 was signed this year which rewrites the rules governing redistricting by local governments.

One rule was seemingly written with the CB Board in mind, “The districting body shall not adopt election district boundaries for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against an incumbent.”

AB 764 states that the census numbers will be used, period, and end of the story. The bill effectively limits mid-decade redistricting to situations where there are annexations or de-annexations.

In addition, AB 764 significantly altered howsuch changes are implemented; the CB Board would have significantly less discretion regarding the criteria used in drawing the districts for example: Election districts shall be geographically contiguous; local neighborhood or local communities cannot be separated, and election districts shall be bounded by natural and artificial barriers and should be easily identifiable and understandable by residents.

Beyond the change in criteria, there are some additional restrictive procedural requirements. 

Instead of just two public hearings, the District’s staff, hired consultants, or a CB subcommittee would be required to conduct pre-mapping workshops.

CB would have to provide the public with information on how to produce and submit maps of its own and public hearings would have to be conducted at a pre- determined time on the agenda.

AB 764 states, “Before the commission draws a map, the commission shall conduct at least seven public hearings, to take place over a period of no fewer than 30 days, with at least one public hearing held in each district.”

CB would also have to conduct outreach to encourage participation by under-represented and non-English-speaking communities and the requirements for the district’s redistricting website would be more involved than previously was the case.

With all these requirements, it remains a mystery as to why the CB Board is spending tens of thousands in their attempt to redistrict. 

Gualtieri, Garza, Vazquez-Wilson, and Camacho-Rodriguez need 2/3rds or five votes; Bekele, Crawford, and Chacon are solid no votes.

And Bekele and Crawford are no longer subject to verbal attacks by Vazquez and her husband Ron Wilson at their respective public meetings after LCCN exposed their harassment schemes.

  • Cindy Cotter says:

    Can you explain the justification for Vasquez Wilson and Camacho Rodrigues “sharing” Division 1 while Division 2 has gone unrepresented? The explanation on Central Basin’s website is that it’s a matter of compliance with AB1794, but AB1794 is now a law which says pretty explicitly: “…the board of directors of the district shall be composed of seven directors as follows:
    (1) Four directors, one director elected for each division…” Did some official body issue a waiver? Did a judge render a decision? Who decided the people of Division 2 didn’t really need a rep?