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Whittier Latinos sue city to force district elections

The Whittier city council includes, from left: Joe Vinatieri, Owen Newcomer, Cathy Warner and Mayor Bob Henderson. (Not seen is council member Fernando Dutra.)
The Whittier city council includes, from left: Joe Vinatieri, Owen Newcomer, Cathy Warner and Mayor Bob Henderson. (Not seen is council member Fernando Dutra.) Whittier Daily News

Three Whittier residents have sued the city over its at-large elections, demanding it change over to a district election system.

They say elections in which all voters choose all five council members are keeping Whittier's 67 percent Latino majority from selecting council members they prefer. Only one Latino, a popular high school football coach, has ever won a Whittier council election.

Attorney Miguel Garcia, homemaker Lisa Lopez and Whittier College student Jafet Diego filed suit, demanding the city switch to district elections.

Under the California Voting Rights Act, the city must abandon its at-large system if voting patterns are polarized — that is, if Latinos mostly vote for one candidate and whites for another.

The Whittier Latino Coalition agreed a few weeks ago to hold off on a lawsuit. But Coalition spokesman Louis Reyes said they decided to proceed with the action after the city hired the same lawyers that represent Anaheim and other cities that are fighting district elections.

Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier said officials hired the firm with the most expertise, not one that will automatically oppose districts. He says the council is still weighing its options.

Complaint Whittier Voter Rights Violation by scprweb

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