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City Council’s Ad Hoc Governance Reform Committee Begins Narrowing Down Options

The City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform, which is working on a proposal for a 2024 ballot measure (or measures) that would suggest increasing the size of the Los Angeles City Council and creating an independent redistricting commission to re-draw council district boundaries after each decennial census, is getting closer to a final list of recommendations for those proposals.

At its meeting on Monday, the committee heard and discussed recommendations and clarifying questions from John Wickham, the city’s Assistant Chief Legislative Analyst, whose report summarized the results of several previous listening sessions, in addition to recommendations made last month by the academic LA Governance Reform Project, Our LA (a coalition of grass roots community organizations), and California Common Cause.

Wickham called his report a “suggested term sheet,” not a formal proposal, which he said simply brings together suggestions made so far on the issues involved, some of which have seem to have consensus among the various groups providing input, and some of which do not. So “the suggested terms are not set in stone,” Wickham said. “They’re not even sent in wet cement.”

Discussing the various recommendations at this week’s meeting, however, gave the committee members a chance to start whittling down the options for city council size and reforming the redistricting process, and they were able to hone in on key points that need further information, clarification, and/or discussion before they vote next month on formal recommendations to forward to the full city council.

City Council Size

Committee chair (and City Council President) Paul Krekorian opened Monday’s discussion with what may be the most noticeable issue under consideration – whether or not to increase the size of the Los Angeles City Council, meaning smaller and more numerous districts than the 15 that exist now, each of which represents more than 250,000 people.  (Los Angeles currently has the smallest city council of any similar-sized city in the nation.  Both Chicago and New York have at least 50 city council districts/members, and several others have more than 30.)

The committee’s previous discussions have shown that most, if not all, of the groups submitting comments to the committee so far do recommend that Los Angeles increase the number of city council districts, with a target number somewhere between 21 and 31. Krekorian said he would support something in that range, but would prefer that the number remain fixed from decade to decade, and not change every 10 years (as recommended by Common Cause), because that would trigger too many other attendant changes in the City Charter regarding things like quorum size and other operating details.

Krekorian also noted that the academic LA Governance reform project has recommended that there be 21 geographic-based districts/representatives and four additional at-large members, for a total of 25 city council members.  But he said he thinks the “sweet spot” might be 23 districts, which would each represent about 175,000 constituents.

In the discussion that followed, committee member Bob Blumenfield agreed that the number of districts should remain fixed, and not change every 10 years, but he said he would prefer that any “at-large” districts be regional instead of citywide (for example a Valley representative, or a Westside representative, etc.)

There was also a discussion of whether or not California state law would allow at-large districts at all, and Wickham confirmed that current state law does seem to discourage that kind representation because it could be harder to guarantee equitable representation of certain protected classes of voters.  Wickham also said that having at-large representatives means people working for special interests might find it easier to go “representative shopping” if the councilmember from their own specific district doesn’t support a project or cause they’re promoting.

Other committee members said they, too, would support an expansion of some size between 21 and 31, but also expressed a number of other concerns, including:

  • How large the Council could be before it would tip the balance of power between the Council and the Mayor, or make the Council’s legislative work unwieldy (as several people have said can happen in our 80-person state assembly)
  • Whether or not increasing the number of representatives (and reducing the number of constituents each represents) could mean councilmembers might find themselves with part-time jobs instead of full-time, which could make it harder to serve their constituents, instead of easier
  • How creating smaller, more numerous districts might increase class polarization in individual districts (most of which now contain a wide mix of income levels)
  • And whether council office budgets and staff would be reduced proportionally with a larger number of districts, and, if not, how the additional funds required to run and staff more council offices might affect budgets for other important city departments.

Concerns were also raised about making only minimal City Charter changes right now – to simply allow more city council representatives – when it might be actually be time for a more comprehensive update.

And committee members asked whether there should be a single ballot measure incorporating both possible expansion of the city council and a plan for redistricting reform, or whether they should be two separate measures.

Most people present did seem to agree that these are two separate questions, and should be addressed in two separate ballot measures.  But on the question of whether a single number of new council districts should be presented to voters, or if they should be given a choice of two or more numbers, Krekorian noted that the last two times similar suggestions for increasing the size of the city council were presented to voters, they both included two choices, and both measures failed.  Krekorian agreed, however, that increasing the council size and finding ways to reform the city council redistricting process are two separate issues, worthy of two separate ballot measures, and that the last one, at least, must pass “come hell or high water,” and that it would be “terrible if it didn’t pass.”

In the end, committee members agreed they still need more information before weighing in on many of these issues, so no votes were taken on a proposed council size, and Wickham said he would research and report back on their various questions at the next meeting in September.


As with the size of the city council, among the biggest questions in discussions of redistricting reform at Monday’s meeting were how large a new, independent redistricting commission should be, and how commissioners should be chosen.

Regarding commission size, Wickham said 17 members seems to be a well-supported number, based on various recommendations so far, and Krekorian suggested there also be four alternate commissioners, who would participate in all commission meetings, but not vote unless they are eventually elevated to a vacant board position.  (No recommendations were made yet, however, about how people would be chosen from among the alternates to fill vacant commission positions.)

Wickham said terms of both three and 10 years have been suggested for Redistricting Commissioners, and both Krekorian and committee member Marqueece Harris-Dawson said that while they both initially thought 10 years was too long, they changed their minds when considering the possibility of legal challenges to approved maps, which could mean there would be further map adjustments required for several years after the initial district maps are approved. (Most committee members seemed to agree, however, that commission alternates could serve for shorter periods of time than commissioners, perhaps five-year terms with an option to renew for another five years after that.)

The biggest part of the redistricting discussion, however, centered on the process for choosing commissioners.

Wickham said there have been many suggestions from various parties about qualifications, but so far the only consensus seems to be that they must be city residents, having lived here for at least three or four years.  Krekorian added, and others agreed, that they should also be at least 18 years old.

Other suggestions from Krekorian and various committee members included that applicants should be able to demonstrate some understanding of what they’re getting into, probably by showing they’ve had at least some other kind civic engagement experience (whether volunteering, serving on a Neighborhood Council, or something else). And Krekorian suggested there could be a simple list of checkboxes on the applications for various activities that would qualify.

Committee members also generally agreed that things like being a registered voter or submitting a letter of recommendation probably should not be required to apply for a spot on the Redistricting Commission, because that could eliminate many people who might otherwise be very engaged in their communities.

Finally, Krekorian also suggested using a two-tiered selection system for Redistricting Commissioners.  Half of the board seats, he proposed, could be filled by random selection among applicants from perhaps four geographical areas (divided into roughly equal population numbers), and then those initially-chosen Commissioners would select the remaining commissioners, with equal representation from the various geographic areas.  That would mean that the first tier selections would be very objective, he said, with a bit more subjectivity in the second round.

Wickham added that if this plan is followed, the two people from each geographic area should not live within the same zip code in that area, to provide better geographic diversity, and that commissioners chosen in the second round should also meet various diversity factors (such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) set by the first-round commissioners.

Next, committee members discussed whether people who are currently serving on other city commissions, or who have served on commissions in the recent past, should be eligible to serve on the City Council Redistricting Commission.

Wickham suggested that if someone is currently serving on another city commission, or has served on a commission within the last three years, they not be eligible for a city council redistricting commission. That way, he said, they would be better able to focus their knowledge and energy specifically on redistricting work, and there would be no conflict of interest concerns with people who might have been appointed to other commissions by specific elected officials.

Krekorian noted that Wickham’s report also suggests that city employees, or people who have been city employees within the last eight years, also be ineligible for the City Council Redistricting Commission, and said that makes less sense to him because civic employees tend to have fewer political connections than city commissioners.  He suggested that the restriction for city employees be the same as or less than that for other commissioners.

Krekorian also said the goal of a truly independent redistricting commission should be to find applicants who are not interested in running for office themselves.  He suggested a restriction on running for office within five years of being on the Redistricting Commission. But others said that might not be restrictive enough, and committee member Nithya Raman noted that Common Cause recommended that no one be allowed to run for a district for which they helped draw boundaries.  And Krekorian agreed, explaining that would mean that no one on the Commission would be allowed to run for city council for as long as the maps they helped draw were still in existence…which would likely be until the next decennial redistricting committee finished its work and drew new maps.

Another major topic of discussion at this week’s meeting – as well as in almost every redistricting reform discussion since the last round of city council redistricting in 2021 – was the issue of ex parte communications during the redistricting process.

Wickham noted that Common Cause has recommended that redistricting commissioners have no communications with anyone about redistricting outside public hearings, but several committee members suggested there might be a way to use public social media platforms for smaller town hall meetings, or commissioner discussions with individual community groups, which would be outside regular public hearings but might still meet the spirit of public communications.

Krekorian, however, argued that this could result in meetings or communications happening via more obscure platforms, too, where not everyone might not know to look for, or be able to find, the videos or conversations unless they specifically knew to look for them…which definitely would not be in the spirit of fully public communications.

And when others argued that we should be trying to find new ways to extend the reach of redistricting discussions, Krekorian said, “I’m OK with being stuck in the past” if it means requiring all conversations to happen in duly noticed public meetings, and that he feels “we’ve got to draw a bright line here…no ex parte, period, under any circumstances – it happens in meetings or it doesn’t exist.”

Raman noted, however, that many people can’t make it to public meetings because of travel time, distance, scheduling, and other factors, and Harris Dawson suggested that if, for example, three commissioners wanted to hold a public meeting in Watts, with residents of that community, it should be OK if a video of the meeting were available on a designated city channel and/or public redistricting website, a requirement that it would be easy to set and meet.  Krekorian agreed that this kind of requirement would help, though he also noted that the more different kinds of meetings you allow outside of meetings of the full commission, the more chances there are to run afoul of public meeting rules such as those set by the Brown Act, and the more likely that someone, somewhere, will find a loophole and try to exploit it.

A better plan, he said, might be to do more robust public outreach, to make sure more people know about and have access to the regular commission meetings.

And finally, he reminded the committee, you can have a fully noticed meeting, with all commissioners attending, wherever you want to have one – so if hearing from the Watts community is particularly important, you can have a meeting there, under the existing parameters.  And Wickham agreed, reporting that you are also allowed have a public meeting without a quorum if it is fully open to the public, if all the commissioners will have access to all the information discussed at the meeting, and if no votes are taken at the meeting.

Next, the committee discussed the need for specific mechanisms to remove commissioners for specific kinds of violations, such as being charged with a crime, or being convicted of a felony.  Wickham’s current proposal was that commissioners could be removed by a 2/3 vote of the commission, and that there would be automatic removal if a commissioner is convicted of a felony.

Regarding redistricting commission scheduling, Wickham recommended that commissioners be seated in years ending in 9, so they are already working on training, staffing, and other pre-redistricting tasks when the decennial census begins in years ending in 0, and so they’re ready to begin work in earnest when the census data becomes available in years ending in 1.  New district maps would then go into effect either as soon as the maps are approved, or at the next election after their approval. (This means the next city council maps would be drawn in 2031, after the 2030 census, and could go into effect either late in 2031, or for the 2032 elections, which Wickham said would be easiest because several election cycles converge in 2032).

Finally, a discussion of oversight indicated that committee members would prefer that both the City Clerk’s office and the Ethics Commission be involved, to help with both the mechanics of the Commission’s work, and behavioral oversight.

School Board Redistricting

Last among the various redistricting issues discussed this week was the topic of LAUSD school board redistricting, which has traditionally also been managed by the city council.

When Wickham asked how the committee would like to handle LAUSD redistricting, however, Krekorian suggested they could propose another ballot measure suggesting that the city council let go of school board redistricting, something it took on originally only because the city used to run school board elections, which it no longer does (that’s now a County responsibility).

Harris-Dawson noted that many LAUSD students are city residents, though, which might argue for keeping LAUSD redistricting under city council control, so Wickham said he would research and bring back some options for further discussion.

Next Steps

Because there were so many questions and requests for further information from committee members at this meeting, no votes were taken, and Wickham said he would do more research, including consulting with the various contributing organizations, and report back with more information at the next meeting. Krekorian said, however, that it will be important to narrow things down further at that meeting and vote on specific recommendations, to keep things moving forward.

In the meantime, public comments on the city council and redistricting reform efforts can be submitted via Council File 22-1196-S1 (click on the red “NEW” button for a comment form), Wickham’s full report is available here, and a full recording of Monday’s meeting is available below.

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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. As I recall in a Hollywood neighborhood council meeting earlier in the week Hugo was not in favor of changing the district size, increasing the size.

    • People are talking about increasing the number of districts, which would reduce, not increase, the size of each district, with the premise that councilmembers might be better able to respond to the needs of their constituents if there are fewer of them in each district. At the moment, though, the discussion is still taking place in the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform, which CD 13’s Hugo Soto-Martinez does not sit on, so it has not yet been discussed by the full city council. That will happen later this year, at which time all the councilmembers will have a chance to weigh in officially. Also, the City Council doesn’t get the final say on this – a change to the city council requires a change to the city charter, which voters must approve. So what the city council is working on is language for a ballot measure about increasing the size of the council, which will likely go to voters in November, 2024. That said, though, it will take a majority vote of the city council to approve the specifics of the ballot measure, whatever those wind up being.


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