Segura on Approaches for Reforming City Government

UCLA Luskin Professor Gary Segura spoke to LAist’s “AirTalk” about the L.A. Governance Reform Project, an effort by Southern California scholars to develop proposals to reform Los Angeles’ scandal-scarred city government. While the project will initially focus on establishing a fair redistricting process, it will also consider the merits of increasing the number of City Council members, which currently stands at 15. “The idea is that there should be a representation system in which all of the city’s various ethnic, racial, sectarian and linguistic groups have an opportunity to see their views represented,” said Segura, the team’s co-chair. “The truth is that’s just easier when there are more seats.” The scholars will invite civil society and social justice organizations to weigh in on this approach. Past efforts to expand the council have met with public opposition, and Segura acknowledged that recent controversies exposing corruption and racist conversations may make electing more City Council members seem unpalatable.


Segura to Co-Chair Project for Better L.A. Governance

UCLA Luskin Professor Gary Segura has been named co-chair of a coalition of Los Angeles-based scholars and researchers who will develop proposals for bringing better governance to L.A.’s halls of power. The L.A. Governance Reform Project was launched amid recent controversies at Los Angeles City Hall that have underscored the need for a transparent, accountable and community-driven system of government in the diverse and dynamic region. The group’s first task will be to produce recommendations for an independent redistricting process to be presented to policymakers in the coming months. The team will then turn to other areas, including but not limited to City Council expansion, ethics and land use reform. As they conduct their analysis, the scholars will consult with several members of the governmental, civic, activist and academic communities. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment in Los Angeles. Interest in reform is high throughout the community, and the best reforms will generate the widest and broadest community support,” said Segura, whose academic work focuses on political representation and social cleavages. Segura serves as co-chair with Professor Ange-Marie Hancock of the University of Southern California, and the project will be administered by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. The L.A. Governance Reform Project team also includes scholars from Cal State Northridge, Loyola Marymount University and Pomona College. The project has received funding from philanthropic organizations including the California Community Foundation, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Weingart Foundation.


Newton on Prospects for Reforming L.A.’s Political Structure

Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the the scandal over leaked audio of hateful and racist remarks by city leaders. “It breeds a certain kind of arrogance. What I heard on that tape, just unbridled arrogance,” Newton said. The controversy has led to renewed discussion of reforms to the city’s current political structure, in which each of 15 City Council districts effectively represents more than 250,000 residents — a larger ratio than exists for many state legislatures. Previous measures aimed at reforming the system have been defeated, but Newton commented, “There are moments when the public is willing to listen, to be engaged in the process. This could be one of those moments.”


Zero-Sum Game in L.A. Politics Is Counterproductive, Yaroslavsky Says

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Christian Science Monitor about the controversy that has erupted over blatantly racist remarks made by L.A. City Council members. “I refuse to believe that what those people said in that room reflected what real people think in this town,” Yaroslavsky said. The UCLA Quality of Life Index, which Yaroslavsky oversees, consistently finds rankings of race relations as the highest area of satisfaction in L.A. County. “This is not the city of 50 years ago,” he said. “This is a city where people of different colors and different ethnicities work together, go to school together, marry each other, go to the market together.” A political strategy that pits groups against each other is counterproductive, he added. “You want to find ways for everyone to win, and not make it a zero-sum game.”


Message From the Dean: Recent Events in the L.A. City Council All of us — not just prominent people and elected officials but especially them — must do more to make the world a safer, saner place.

Oct. 11, 2022

Friends, Colleagues, Students:

I am once again called upon to communicate to you in a moment where I find myself almost speechless. The wildly offensive racist, anti-Black, anti-indigenous, antisemitic and homophobic conversation among three members of the City Council and a local labor leader deserves all the condemnation it’s receiving and then some. That one party of the conversation was, until two years ago, a member of this academic community is personally painful and deeply disappointing.

We are called upon in moments like this to remember that the cause of human equality and a commitment to decency, equity, and inclusiveness is an ongoing project, one requiring self-examination and vigilance. Let us use this moment to once again repudiate anti-Blackness, repudiate derision directed toward indigenous communities, repudiate antisemitism, repudiate homophobia and demand that all of us — not just prominent people and elected officials but especially them — do better and do more to make the world a safer, saner place in which we all might flourish.

The School is not permitted to take public political positions. However, I wanted you to hear from me that today, in my personal capacity, I signed onto a letter from community and civic leaders across academic, philanthropic and political organizations. The letter calls for the resignation of all three officials, an important first step toward rectifying this injustice and allowing healing to begin.

Our times remain vexed. Emotions remain high. Let’s work to make our better selves the authors of the future.

In solidarity,

Gary M. Segura

Professor and Dean

Diaz on New Latino-Majority Districts in California

Founding Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about the role that California Latinos will play in the midterm elections. New congressional maps were drawn based on the results of the 2020 Census, and the number of Latino-majority districts in California increased from 10 to 16. The six new districts with Latino majorities could help Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming elections. However, some experts are concerned that it may take time to mobilize voters in these districts, which are concentrated in the Central Valley and encompass rural and historically disenfranchised communities that may be hard to organize. “Latinos are at the periphery of California politics even though they’re central to the economy and to its future,” Diaz explained. She said that Democrats should seek Latino candidates who can speak to the concerns of Latino communities.

Luskin Summit Underscores Urgency of Safeguarding Democracy

A panel of experts stressed the urgency of protecting voter rights at the Luskin Summit virtual event “Safeguarding Our Democracy” on Feb. 15. Chad Dunn, legal director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project, led the discussion about legislative attempts to restrict voting rights across the country, particularly in communities of color. “People of color made their voices heard in record numbers in the 2020 election, and in response to that, we are seeing a swift backlash to ensure that those voices are not heard again,” said Kristen Johnson, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It’s 2022, but we are dealing with 1964 issues with respect to voting. We can’t allow voter suppression to happen as if it is inevitable,” said Johnson, a UCLA Law alumna. Ernest Herrera, counsel for the Western Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that voter suppression tactics are especially evident in states with growing Latino populations, including Washington and Texas. “There is discrimination and prevention of minorities from exercising their political power,” he said. “Unfortunately, many jurisdictions won’t comply with the Voting Rights Act until they are forced to.” Herrera recommended working to protect voter rights at the state level and getting involved in local government. Dunn concluded that “this has always been a two-steps-forward, one-step-back struggle, and there will be opportunities to move forward.” Civic leader Kafi Blumenfield, a member of the Luskin School of Public Affairs Board of Advisors, offered a closing statement for the event. — Zoe Day

Tackling Voter Dilution in California UCLA Voting Rights Project fights to ensure equitable representation in Orange and Yolo counties

By Jose Garcia

As counties across California finalize new electoral boundaries in a once-in-a-decade process known as redistricting, the UCLA Voting Rights Project (VRP) is successfully providing guidance to decision-makers to ensure full compliance with federal and state laws.

California has experienced rapid demographic changes, such as Latinos becoming the largest ethnic majority in the state, and county boards get one shot to draw fair and equitable district maps for the next decade. In the past, California has seen patterns of voter dilution that many wish to see corrected.

The Voting Rights Project, the flagship project of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), is placing direct pressure on decision-makers through high-level analysis of district maps and leveraging of local media, with the goal of ensuring that equitably drawn maps are implemented.

In Orange County, a region that is 34% Latino, the county Board of Supervisors has not seen Latino representation in over 15 years. This is largely attributed to the way district boundaries have been drawn in the past.

In response, the Voting Rights Project published a report analyzing proposed maps for the county’s supervisorial districts and detailed the steps needed to ensure full compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Several of the proposed maps, while appearing to be compliant, did not actually meet requirements to give areas with a high percentage of people of color a chance of electing a representative from their community,” said Sonni Waknin, voting rights counsel for the VRP.

Some of the proposed maps ensured that Latinos were less able to elect candidates of their choice by “cracking,” or splitting, adjacent cities with ethnic majorities, such as Santa Ana and Anaheim, according to Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The Voting Rights Project urged the Orange County Board of Supervisors to implement specific boundary changes that would create the county’s first majority-Latino supervisorial district — which the board subsequently adopted in a historic vote.

“We are incredibly proud to have ensured that Orange County recognized the need for Latinos to elect candidates of their choice, as required by the federal Voting Rights Act,” Waknin said.

Her team harnessed the success in Orange County and began deploying similar strategies across the state throughout the fall of 2021.

Yolo County, a region at high risk of voter dilution under proposed district boundaries, was a priority. While voters had been able to elect a Latino candidate under existing maps, the margin of victory was narrow, considering that Latinos accounted for 69% of the county’s total population growth over the last 10 years.

As it did in Orange County, Waknin’s team analyzed proposed maps and demographics in Yolo County and found that several plans under consideration would crack the Latino population of existing districts and lower the Latino voting-age population below thresholds required by the Voting Rights Act.

A VRP memo sent to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors argued that three of the four originally proposed maps would absolutely dilute the power of Latino voters. Following the memo and a coordinated media strategy, the supervisors unanimously voted to adopt district borders closely resembling the VRP’s recommendations.

“Latino communities have driven the growth of California for the past decade,” Waknin said. “Their political voice must be heard at every level, including local governments.”

At the local level, cities and counties use new census data to redraw district lines to reflect changes in their populations. California’s congressional districts are redrawn every decade by an independent commission of citizens from across the state.

Currently, over half of the U.S. has finished the redistricting process, and many of the approved maps will ultimately undercut communities of color, according to Waknin. Her team is continuing its involvement in places facing potential voter dilution outside of California, including in key states such as Texas and Washington.

“Through this work, the UCLA Voting Rights Project is playing a critical role in protecting the integrity of the state’s and nation’s democracy,” Diaz said. “The project is fundamentally influencing how political boundaries are redrawn to create an equitable electoral system for all.”

Diaz Pushes for Fair Redistricting in Orange County

UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Director Sonja Diaz spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the potential impacts of redistricting in Orange County. Nearly a third of Orange County residents are Latino, but current district boundaries divide areas with large Latino populations in Santa Ana and Anaheim. Diaz explained that dividing adjacent cities with ethnic majorities, a process known as cracking, has been a major factor in Latino voter turnout and can dilute political power. The county Board of Supervisors is currently undergoing the decennial redistricting process with data from the 2020 Census and is expected to approve a majority Latino district for the first time. “Orange County has for far too long been dictated by the policy preferences of an aging, white electorate that leans conservative,” Diaz said. “And I say this as a jurisdiction that is increasingly multiethnic and multiracial, with large communities of Asian American and Latino electorates.”

Latinos Fueling Population Growth, Diaz Says

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Univision about the political power of the growing Latino electorate. Newly released data from the 2020 Census confirmed that the non-Hispanic white population shrunk the most over the last decade in the United States while the populations identifying as Hispanic, Latino or multiracial grew. According to Diaz, the census data is integral to political voice and ensuring fair redistricting. “When we redraw the lines, we should see Latino political voice and political power protected under the Voting Rights Act and their ability to elect their candidate of choice,” Diaz said. While the census’ undercount of some communities is still unclear, Diaz predicted that the United States will continue to see population growth among Asian Americans and Latinos in the next few decades.