Central Valley

Stanislaus County still must answer to Latino neighborhoods

Stanislaus County is headed back to court to defend itself in a long-running lawsuit aimed at improving mostly Latino neighborhoods in south and west Modesto.

Judges at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal this week declined to throw out the case at the county’s request, leaving the county to answer for:

Comparably slow law enforcement response times in the Latino neighborhoods,

A municipal annexation policy that the Latino residents in the lawsuit allege discriminates against them,

And, alleged discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, which the plaintiffs are trying to use to compel the government agencies to pay for improved municipal services in the neighborhoods.

The latest ruling marks another chapter in a nearly 6-year-old lawsuit. The city and county swept the first round in the summer of 2007, when a federal judge dismissed most of the claims because he did not see evidence of intentional discrimination against the Latino neighborhoods.

Judges at the 9th Circuit in October determined certain claims deserved a new hearing, but rejected a potentially expensive claim that would have forced the county to install new sidewalks, storm drains and sewer lines in the neighborhoods. That decision stands under the new ruling.

The neighborhoods at issue are unincorporated pockets that are surrounded by the city of Modesto. Modesto refuses to annex them until the county installs basic improvements, such as sewers and sidewalks. The city contends that annexing the neighborhoods without those features would burden city taxpayers.

At a hearing last year, judges at the 9th Circuit seemed especially troubled by disparities in law enforcement response times.

It took 911 personnel 7.2 minutes on average to dispatch deputies to Latino islands, according to data from a 2½-year period ending in August 2004, compared with 5.5 minutes in predominantly white unincorporated islands.

And it took 13.4 minutes for deputies to arrive after calls were placed from Latino islands, compared with 12.5 minutes in white islands, the study showed.