Seats don’t reflect totals
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/14/2010 09:53:26 PM PDT

Look around the average neighborhood in Fontana and you’ll likely see plenty of Latino faces. Look at the Fontana City Council dais, and you’ll see none.

It’s the same in Upland, Highland, Hesperia and other San Bernardino County cities that have large Latino populations but few if any Latino elected officials.

“We need some more representation,” said Virginia Marquez, the only Latina on the San Bernardino City Council. “Sometimes I feel like the Lone Ranger.”

While about half of the county’s residents are Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, only about 20 percent of local city council members are Latino. Fontana, where 63 percent of residents are Latino, has no Latino elected officials.

While the underrepresentation of Latinos is more stark at the city council level, it’s also true for local school boards. In the Redlands Unified and Apple Valley Unified school districts, more than 1-in-4 residents are Latino, while none of the board members are Latino. In the Pomona Unified School District in Los Angeles County, one of five board members is Latino while 66 percent of district residents are Latino.

Some local leaders don’t see the lack of Latinos in local office as a problem, but many Latino leaders and elected officials do. Marquez said she would also like San Bernardino’s nonelected city department heads to more accurately reflect the city’s demographics.

Upland Mayor John Pomierski said things would change in his city – where about 36 percent of residents are Latino – but not the mayor nor any of the City Council members- if people were dissatisfied.

“It’s kind of like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “I think it’s all based on the job you’re doing.”

Marquez and Joe Olague, president of the Inland Empire chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said part of the reason so few Latinos hold local office is that Latinos don’t vote as consistently as other groups.

“We have a lot of people who have the opportunity to vote who don’t vote for different reasons,” Olague said. “They’re working, they need two or three jobs to exist in our society. And they’re not told about the power we have.”

Douglas Johnson, a research fellow at Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government, said many Latino immigrants who could vote don’t.

“Most immigrants come from countries that don’t have a true Democracy, and they aren’t used to thinking their vote counts,” he said.

Raymond Herrera, founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group We the People, California’s Crusader, said he suspects Latinos who have assimilated into what he calls “America’s Anglo-Protestant core culture” don’t care about having Latino representation. Latinos who do demand Latino representation, he said, are largely illegal immigrants.

But estimates from the Census Bureau show that even after noncitizens and people too young to vote are removed, Latinos make up a huge chunk of the voting-age citizens in Fontana, Upland and other cities that have little or no Latino representation.

In Upland, 28 percent of voting-age citizens are Latino. In San Bernardino, it’s 42 percent. In Fontana, it’s 50 percent.

Fontana Councilwoman Acquanetta Warren said it would be good to have Latino representation on the Fontana council, but that people are elected to public office because they have helped people and built a network, not because of their ethnicity.

“You don’t get on the council by running. You have to become part of the community. You get involved with things so you have a base,” said Warren, who is running for mayor against, among others, Latina activist Bobbi Jo Chavarria. “It doesn’t just happen because of skin color.”

But Tom Burciaga, a board member of the Inland Empire Hispanic Leadership Council, said many Latinos who would be a good fit for public office don’t run because they look at the ethnic makeup of city councils and school boards and think they can’t win.

“The majority would probably feel it’s not probable they’ll get elected,” Burciaga said. “They feel (local government) is monopolized.”

But all-white or mostly white councils can change, Johnson said, either through the application of state voting-rights laws or through community organizing, or both.

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