HAYWARD — The good news is this: Hayward is more racially and ethnically integrated than most American cities of its size, at least according to the U.S. Census.

But if that doesn't help the city's 36 percent Latino community elect one of its own to an at-large seat on the Hayward City Council, what will?

"I always thought Hayward was a lot more segregated," said resident and activist Mark Salinas, who is frustrated that the city has not had a Latino council member since 1991.

A professor at Ohlone College, Salinas is one of several community leaders pushing for a re-examination of the city's power structure. If Latinos have trouble getting elected to a citywide council seat, would they do better if they could run for their own neighborhood political district?

Not necessarily, according to Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at California State University, East Bay who has researched the issue.

The three biggest Bay Area cities have elections by district. But what works in Oakland, one of the most segregated big cities in the country when it comes to where Latinos live in relation to where non-Hispanic whites live, might not work in Hayward, she said.

Oakland has Fruitvale, a predominately Latino residential and commercial district that has been heavily developed for a century.


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Fruitvale currently serves as the base for a popular Latino politician, Oakland City Council President Ignacio de la Fuente.

Hayward, on the other hand, is defined by its meandering subdivisions. Of the city's approximately 45,000 homes, about 13,000 were built in the suburban boom of the 1950s — the most of any decade before or since, according to the census.

Michelson said Latinos do better under district systems as their proportion of the population increases, and as they are segregated in relation to other communities.

According to a 2005 census survey, Latinos now make up a little more than 36 percent of the city's population. They form the largest of any census-defined group in the city, but they have no members on the Hayward City Council.

Nor do any of the council members live in

neighborhoods where most Latinos reside. Four, including Mayor Mike Sweeney, live in the more affluent Hayward hills. Two live in the flatland Southgate neighborhood.

None live in the neighborhoods where more than 50 percent of residents are Latino. Most of those are in the flatlands between Mission Boulevard and Interstate 880.

The census measures segregation using a "dissimilarity index." It looks at what percentage of a certain racial or ethnic group would have to relocate in order to be evenly distributed with another group.

Comparing Latinos to non-Hispanic whites, Hayward gets a score of 29. Twenty-nine percent of Latinos would have to move in order to become more evenly distributed with non-Hispanic whites. The higher the number, the more the Latino community is segregated.

That puts Hayward far below Bay Area cities like Menlo Park, where the score is 75 for Latinos, and Oakland, where it is 70.

However, it is higher than in nearby San Leandro (19 points) or Alameda and Fremont (both 18).

Salinas, who attended a talk Michelson gave last week to a gathering of local Democratic Party activists, said the census analysis changes the way he thinks about the way Latinos are proportionally represented in Hayward, and what that means politically.

"In a highly segregated environment, district elections would produce much more equitable elections," Salinas said.

But in Hayward, he said, the outcome of switching the election system "wouldn't really benefit marginalized groups" because those groups are more interspersed throughout the city.

Salinas, who is unhappy that the City Council did not appoint one of several Latino candidates after the death of Councilman Matt Jimenez in July, said rather than fight for district elections, he is going to find other ways to strive for more equity at City Hall. 

"I know there's a lot of people out there very upset about what the council did," Salinas said. He hopes to use what he considers a "slap in the face of the Latino community" as an impetus to encourage more Latino turnout in 2008.

Linda Bennett, a former unsuccessful candidate for City Council, said district elections might not be worth the change if looking solely at the issue of Latino representation.

Her north Hayward neighborhood currently has no local politicians with the exception of Gail Steele, a county supervisor. The neighborhood where Bennett grew up, which she describes as "south central Hayward" hasn't had a representative for decades. The last council member to live there was Charlie Santana, who was also Hayward's first Latino councilman.

Bennett said geographic and class disparities are also important areas to look.

"If we were looking at the city as a whole and taking everything into consideration, it might make sense (to have district elections)," Bennett said. "I think sometimes when you get representatives all conglomerated in one area, you can have a problem. They're skewed in their view."

The downside, she said, is that local district representatives can be tempted to focus too much on their "own little backyard."