Armenians Hope New Districts Give Them A Voice On Pasadena School Bo

By Brian Charles

Pasadena Star News

Jan 30 2012

PASADENA – Armenian voters appear to be the big winners in the ongoing
effort to divide the Pasadena Unified School District board into seven
geographic voting districts, according to Chris Chahinian, Armenian
community leader and a member of the PUSD redistricting task force.

On two of the draft maps, a voting sub-district has been formed to
keep together the ethnic group’s coalition of voters, many of whom
live along or near North Allen Avenue. Chahinian said the concessions
to his community are long overdue.

“The Armenian community has been in Pasadena since the 1880s and to not
have a consistent voice in the school district is an outrage,” he said.

Chahinian, who ran for City Council last year, said he plans to push
for a similar Armenian heavy district on the City Council.

His overtures to the task force and the broader community about forming
a voting district for Armenian constituents along North Allen Avenue
has resonated beyond the Armenian community. Leaders in Northwest
Pasadena are paying close attention to Chahinian’s political jockeying.

“Obviously the Armenian coalition was there and they are lobbying
for the Armenian community,” said Ishmael Trone, Northwest Pasadena
business leader. “They are really reaching out to other leaders in
the city to really keep their group together.”

More than 20,000 Armenians live in Pasadena, but it is unclear how
many Armenians – and more importantly Armenian voters – live in the
proposed district carved out by the task force, according to Chahinian.

“The Armenian community has another issue when it comes to filling
out the census,” Trone said. “They are lumped in with white voters.”

So who is providing the stats?

“We are relying on the Armenian community for the numbers,” said Ken
Chawkins, PUSD Charter Reform Task Force chairman.

Yet when it comes to educational needs, the community has long said
it wants its own voice or at least one that will advocate for the
needs of the ethnic community, Chahinian said.

The PUSD endeavored to create voting wards after the threat of a
lawsuit by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The
Bay Area voting rights advocacy group successfully sued a Northern
California school district for under-representation of Latinos
on a school board. The PUSD has one Latino school board member,
Ramon Miramontes, yet Latinos make up more than 50 percent of the
district’s students.

And while the maps give Armenians a chance to influence the PUSD board,
they also give Latinos a chance to influence multiple board seats,
Chawkins said.

“The numbers suggest you can have two Latino districts,” Chawkins said.

But Chawkins said more than race matters in the drawing of the
district’s voting lines.

“There are many more differences to account for beyond race,” he said.

The number of total residents, registered voters and socioeconomic
factors are plugged into the complex formula for creating voting
districts. The law also prevents those drawing the line from packing
a community into one district by creating a district with more than
70 percent of one ethnic or racial group. Voting laws also prevent
cracking or diluting the strength of an ethnic or racial group.

The lines are also drawn to lasso in communities of interest, which is
why Armenians – a group not protected by the 1965 Voting Rights Act –
can be drawn into one voting district.

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