Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Whittier to consider changes to city elections in wake of California Voting Rights Act suit

Whittier Latino Coalition

Sharon McNary/KPCC

Members of the Whittier Latino Coalition include homemaker Lisa Lopez, in the striped shirt. She is one of three Whittier residents who is suing the city with the Coalition's support, demanding the city create council district elections.

Whittier City Council photo wall

Sharon McNary

The back wall of the Whittier City Council chambers is lined with dozens of photos of past mayors and council members, of whom only one has been Latino in the city's 115-year history. Some residents have sued to change the way council members are elected in the city that is two-thirds Latino.

Patricia Lopez

Sharon McNary/KPCC

Patricia Lopez addresses the Whittier City Council in support of changing at-large elections to a district election format.

Miguel Garcia, plaintiff

Sharon McNary/KPCC

From left, Louis Reyes, Miguel Garcia and George Ledesma of the Whittier Latino Coalition at a Whittier City Council meeting. Garcia is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to force the city to abandon its at-large elections in favor of district elections.

Whittier Daily News

The Whittier city council.


The Whittier City Council will consider putting a new election system – which may include district elections – on the ballot at its next meeting, the board voted Tuesday evening. The decision comes after a Latino Coalition lawsuit accusing the city of violating the California Voting Rights Act.

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

They say elections in which all voters choose the 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.

The city released the following statement  from Mayor Bob Henderson about the potential changes expected to be discussed at the next council meeting :

“The rights of our citizens have always been – and always will be – an important and fundamental value that we strive to protect, to ensure that our residents can participate in all aspects of running our city – their city. The Whittier City Council has been analyzing our city elections process, trying to discern the best way for all of our residents’ voices to be heard on Election Day.  We’ve been very thorough in our deliberations, which have led to a decision to review the issue of district elections at our next council meeting. The Council will consider placing a measure on the ballot amending the city charter which would allow citizens to vote to determine how future elections will be held in the City of Whittier.”

Attorney Rod Pacheco, who represents the plaintiffs and the Whittier Latino Coalition, cautioned that the city might propose a watered-down district system in which the five council members are elected by all voters to represent a specific district. That's what the Anaheim City Council proposed in response to a similar Voting Rights Act complaint by Latinos in that city.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on August 27, 2013, in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 13230 Penn Street, Whittier, CA 90602. Anyone unable to attend may watch the meeting on the city’s website.

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