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Whittier Latino Coalition puts Voting Rights Act lawsuit on hold

The Whittier City Council includes, from left: Joe Vinatieri, Owen Newcomer, Cathy Warner and Mayor Bob Henderson.
The Whittier City Council includes, from left: Joe Vinatieri, Owen Newcomer, Cathy Warner and Mayor Bob Henderson.
Whittier Daily News

The Whittier Latino Coalition is delaying its threatened lawsuit against the city over alleged violation of the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The group had originally set July 17 as its deadline for the city to commit to district elections or face legal action.

Members of the coalition allege that the voting power of Whittier's Latino majority population is diluted, and that the Latino community has been unable to elect a candidate of its choice because elections are held at-large. They prefer to elect council members from districts in the belief that Latino candidates would have a better chance to win. They also want city elections consolidated with Whittier's school district and other elections in November.

Mayor Bob Henderson, in a previous interview, said residents of the city are fairly represented by an at-large city council and that there is no barrier to all eligible voters casting ballots on the city's traditional election dates in April.

Coalition spokesman Louis Reyes says the group has agreed to a delay requested by the city.

In a combative letter to the city, Rod Pacheco — the former assemblyman and Riverside County District Attorney who now represents the Whittier Latino Coalition — accused the city of seeking unnecessary delays and concealing the results of a 2011 study of city voting patterns.

City Manager Jeff Collier said that Whittier will embark on a demographic study of voting patterns in an effort to supply the City Council with information on which they could base a decision.

Collier also retained attorney Marguerite Leone to advise the city, and she addressed the council in closed session last week. Her firm, Nelson Merksamer, represents the city of Anaheim, where the city council is also fighting residents' challenge of at-large elections.  

The coalition filed a Public Records Act request to obtain a study the city says it conducted after a 2011 request to switch to district elections. The coalition wants to see that study before embarking on a lawsuit.

Collier said no study was done. However, the city attorney in 2011 had done some research on the involvement of Whittier's Latino voters in electing school board and state legislative representatives and sent it in a letter to the coalition.