Farmers Branch Latinos have a better chance today at seeing a little color introduced into the all-white tableau of elected city government. Under orders from a federal judge, who determined that the town's at-large-style districts robbed Latinos of representation, the city council approved single-member voting districts at its meeting Tuesday night.
The Farmers Branch electoral map is now composed of five districts, each electing one member of the council. One of the districts, to the very west of town, straddling Interstate 35, is 79-percent Latino. Though the percentage of eligible voters is less than that, they are still a majority.
Before, it was possible to have an entire council living on the same street. And indeed, a majority lived in two of the more affluent neighborhoods on the east side of town. The old at-large system created a situation where a motivated, white voting bloc did all the electing. Farmers Branch has never had an Hispanic on the council, though a handful have tried.
"I really think that it would be in best interest of the city for the council to represent the entire city," said former council aspirant Elizabeth Villafranca, owner of Four Corners Cafe and Cuquita's in Farmers Branch. "Absolutely, in the future I have interest in running, as well as some other friends who've run before."
A federal judge still has to review the new districts and forward them to the U.S. Department of Justice. Over the last six years, the town has been roiled by racial politics, starting with a proposed ordinance that would ban undocumented immigrants from renting housing. The rule has been struck down repeatedly by federal district judges and a panel of appeals judges as unconstitutional, but the U.S, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed to hear the challenge en banc.
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The town has spent some $5 million defending its ordinances in court.