Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

City Council Redistricting – Commission’s Final Meeting Passes Baton to City Council

The Los Angeles City Council Redistricing Commission members and staff at the Commission’s final meeting last night.

 

“Despite many challenges, this is a Commission that has been clear about and has remained committed to its values and principles throughout this process,” said Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission Fred Ali when opening the group’s final meeting last night.  The main order of business was approving the Commission’s final report to the City Council, which will begin the final phase of the redistricting process on Tuesday, November 1…but before the commission got down to that vote, Ali took a moment to reflect on the process so far, the things he’s most proud of, and one big recommendation he makes in his report.

“As you know, one of the most significant recommendations we call for in the final report is the need for a truly independent redistricting Commission,” Ali said.  “If I have learned anything in this process it’s that this quasi independent model advisory to the City Council does not work.”

To further explain this point, Ali welcomed a short presentation from California Common Cause, an independent, non-partisan voting rights organization that has been lobbying for influence-free redistricting processes across the state.

According to Common Cause representative Jonathan Mehta-Stein, this year’s city council redistricting process did a great job of increasing public participation (there were more than 14,000 public comments, emails and map submissions – more than in any other redistricting process across the state), but because commission members were appointed by city officials, and often replaced mid-process by those same politicians when things didn’t appear to be going their way – it was still highly partisan.

This was obvious, said Mehta-Stein, in the fact that commissioners this year reported 130 ex parte communications with city councilmembers and their staff members, that City Council members often replaced their initial appointees to the commission with longtime political activists (who, although not privy to the months of work done before they arrived, then fought more aggressively for the incumbents’ interests), and that city councilmembers used city-employed cartographers to create suggested redistricting maps. And the fact that, even after all of this involvement, the City Council will also get the opportunity to re-draw borders recommended by the commission, said Mehta-Stein, makes it even more political. In fact, he said, it’s looking increasingly likely that the commission’s work, based largely on that voluminous public input, “could disappear with the snap of a finger” if the city council so chooses (especially since three councilmembers – Nury Martinez, Paul Krekorian, and Nithya Raman – are already on the record opposing the commission’s recommended map).

“LA can and should do better,” said Mehta-Stein, noting that even though the current system greatly improved public participation, it still easily enables “thumbs on the scale” to tip decisions in favor of those currently in power.

For the next redistricting cycle, which will take place after the 2030 census, Mehta-Stein said Common Cause, like Ali, recommends a truly independent redistricting commission, like that recently used in Long Beach, which most people felt led to less political results.   To ensure that kind of independent redistricting process, Mehta-Stein closed with three very specific recommendations for the next round of LA City Council redistricting :

  • Follow the example of other jurisdictions and create a truly independent redistricting commission.
  • Create narrow and clear parameters for the replacement of commissioners during the redistricting process.
  • Ban all ex parte communications with city officials and their staff members during the redistricting process.

 

Neighborhood Council and Public Comments

 

After the Common Cause presentation, Ali opened the session to 30 minutes of comments from Neighborhood Councils and about 20 members of the public.  As at most previous meetings, these comments were about evenly split between those who support and expressed thanks for the Commission’s work and recommended district map…and those who are unhappy with the process as a whole, or at least their own specific sections of the map.  And as has also been the case at most recent meetings, most of the negative comments came from residents of several San Fernando Valley communities – including Encino, Reseda and others in the proposed Districts 3 and “4-or-2” – who objected to new splits created by the proposed Map K 2.5 within and between those communities.

At the same time, however, a number of other speakers, including several from the general Greater Wilshire area, praised the commission for listening and honoring the large number of requests from their areas to keep certain neighborhoods or communities of interest together in that same map.

 

Commission Comments

 

Moving into the Commission’s discussion of its final report, Ali noted that document is the culmination of 12 months of work, which was performed while dealing with several major challenges, including a global pandemic and a five-month delay in census data (without which it was impossible to draw lines for the population-based districts).

Ali said he was grateful, though, that the Commission very early on adopted and maintained a set of very specific values and principles to guide its work…which engaged more than 14,000 people when all was said and done.  Ali said he is also very proud that the Commission’s final map recognizes population growth in the Valley (which now contains 38% of the city’s population), keeps five council districts wholly in the Valley (and a sixth district, bridging both the Valley and the other side of the Hollywood Hills, is mostly in the Valley), unites Koreatown (as defined by the community-based Koreatown Redistricting Taskforce) in a single council district, maintains (and in some areas increases) the political voice of African American and Latino communities, unites several other ethnic communities (such as Chinatown, Little Ethiopia, Thai Town, and many largely Jewish neighborhoods), and significantly reduces the number of Neighborhood Council areas that are split among two or more City Council districts.

Of course, in a city as large as Los Angeles, Ali said, it will be inevitable that some people will be satisfied with the new districts, and some will be disappointed.  But in general, he said, he is very proud of the Commission’s map, as well as the larger community that participated in the process, and the city staff that worked to support the Commission.

The Commission’s Executive Director Frank Cardenas expressed similar sentiments.  “What a Herculean effort and achievement this commission has been able to accomplish in the light of day,” Cardenas said, noting that the final report summarizing the commission’s work is 555 pages long, not including all the specific public comments, emails, and map submissions, which will also be included.

Quoting from the report’s cover letter, which he authored, Cardenas said, “Redistricting is a complex and sometimes contentious journey. Yet without it our democracy does not work. The hours-long meetings and painstaking attention to details, the collaboration and compromise, the satisfaction and sometimes the anger, are all part of the price we pay for democracy. The Commission worked with a deep sense of responsibility to the people of our city and a willingness to pay that price. We are honored to have served our city and our nation.”

But Cardenas, too, acknowledged that not everyone is happy with the final product. “Democracy is a contact sport,” he said, saying there there are several criticisms flying around which he feels are particularly unjust.  These include:

  • That he deliberately and singlehandedly created the single whitest district council in the city (the proposed CD 3, in the southern part of the Valley) when laying out Map K 2, which became the base for the map that was finally accepted.
  • That because the commissioners were appointed and not elected, they are somehow part of an undemocratic process.
  • That the Commission’s recommendations represent a form of “disenfranchisement” for voters whose current representative may be moved away from them.

On the “undemocratic” charge, Cardenas said the opposite is actually true, and that few things are as democratic as people going over the heads of those in power to make major changes.

And as for “disenfranchisement,” Cardenas noted that redistricting has existed for more than 100 years, and it is not at all uncommon for districts to be completely relocated during a redistricting process.  If “disenfranchisement” – separating elected officials from the constituencies that elected them – was a bar to redistricting, Cardenas said, Los Angeles wouldn’t have any districts shaped by the Voting Rights Act, which has specifically helped to increase voter participation and enfranchisement among certain groups.  For example, he said, CD 6 in the Valley exists because 20 years ago redistricting followed the population, a good chunk of which had moved from the west side to the Valley.  (Longtime City Counclmember Ruth Galanter was quite famously separated from her voter base in that move).  And the current CD 1 wouldn’t exist without redistricting, Cardenas said, because the Department of Justice found that the city was in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and CD 1 was moved from the Valley to East LA, once again separating an elected official from their voter base  Separating representatives from those who voted for them is not prohibited in redistricting, Cardenas said, nor is keeping incumbents in their current districts among the criteria the commission is compelled to adhere to.  So, yes, it’s messy, Cardenas said, but democracy is sometimes messy.

Finally, on the question of the need to increase the number of council districts in the city, another recommendation included in the  Commission’s final report, Commissioner Sonja Diaz reported that she researched the issue, comparing LA to other similar cities.  The two most like L.A., she said, are Chicago and New York, which have 50 and 51 city council districts, respectively.  This indicates that people in Los Angeles are significantly underrepresented in city government in Los Angeles, compared to other cities of similar size…and, furthermore, are actually twice underrepresented, because at the County level there are only five LA County Supervisors representing 10 million residents.

After a few tiny cleanup details (including reassurances that notes to cartographers about a few minor mapping issues will indeed be included), the Commission voted 15-6 to accept and forward the final report, which will be sent to the City Council today.  (The six members voting no on the report – Denis Cagna (representing CD 2), Natalie Freidberg (CD 13), Jackie Goldberg (CD 4), Nam Le (CD 15), Susan Minato (CD 9), and Rachel Torres (CD 6) – were the same six who voted no on the Commission’s final map a week ago.)

But while the vote brought the Commission’s duties to a close…it definitely was not the end of the redistricting process.

As noted above, at least three City Councilmembers, Martinez, Krekorian and Raman, have already spoken out about their dissatisfaction with the Commission’s recommended map (which would significantly re-shape and relocate both Krekorian and Raman’s districts), and Council President Martinez has already introduced a motion to form an ad hoc committee to study the map and make recommendations for revisions.  The Council is currently scheduled to vote on that motion on Tuesday, November 2…and stakeholders who both support and oppose the Commission’s final map are gearing up to make sure the Council hears their voices.  (Which we’ll write more about in the next few days.)  So definitely stay tuned to find out what happens next.

 

 

The LA City Council Redistricting Commission’s final recommended map, forwarded today to the City Council. (Click map for zoomable interactive version.)

 

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for covering the meeting, Common Cause rep Jonathan Mehta-Stein really summed up the process – in just 10 minutes. All the work the residents & the commission put into remapping and then in the end, the council members will meet to decide on how their parts of the pie are sliced up. And the strange antics of bringing in Goldberg late in the game (9th inning) in an attempt to bash the commissions work & rescue Raman.

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