Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/16/2011 06:44:03 PM PDT

A challenge to a state commission’s redistricting maps, approved Monday, could come in the form of lawsuits, in addition to a referendum push by the California Republican Party to overturn the panel’s state Senate districts.

So far no lawsuits have been filed, but a national Latino civil-rights group is analyzing the new maps to determine if there are any violations of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlaws discriminatory electoral procedures.

Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the group is disappointed by missed opportunities to create new Latino majority districts in the Inland Empire and elsewhere.

He said the panel could have created new Latino districts in the Inland Empire for the state Senate, Assembly and House of Representatives.

“There could have been a new (Latino) district for all three levels in the area that stretches from Perris to San Bernardino,” Ochoa said.

Astrid Garcia, director of state election policy and redistricting for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said the commission diminished Latino voting strength.

She cited the reduction of six “Latino-effective” districts statewide down to five with the loss of Senate District 40 in Imperial and Riverside counties.

“Over the last decade, Latinos accounted for over 90percent of California growth, and nearly two in five Californians are Latinos, so to allow the Latino community to have fair representation, the commission needed to embrace this proportion,” Garcia said.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, expressed dissatisfaction with the commission’s maps, which he said diminished minority voter clout in his district.

“I’m disappointed that the commission made the decision without considering recommendations form the (San Bernardino Central Democratic Committee) which was in compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” Baca said.

Redistricting commissioners, including former Claremont Mayor Peter Yao, defended the maps, saying they were drawn according to law.

“Absolutely, we feel we met every letter and every intent of the Voting Rights Act,” Yao said. “We treated that very seriously. We feel very comfortable that we met not only the letter of the law, but the intent of the law.”

Citizens Redistricting Commissioner Angelo Ancheta, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said new maps must be in place by the June primary.

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