Federal judge rejects challenge to L.A. council's 2012 redistricting

Federal judge rejects lawsuit saying new LA council district boundaries were drawn primarily based on race

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a three-year-old legal challenge to the boundaries drawn for Los Angeles' 15 City Council districts, saying she found no evidence that race was the predominant factor in creating the new maps.

U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said lawyers for the city provided "undisputed evidence" that the boundaries approved by the council achieved "traditional non-racial redistricting” goals, such as keeping distinct communities and neighborhood councils in the same district.

The ruling delivered a major victory to council President Herb Wesson, who presided over the once-a-decade redistricting process and is now seeking a third term in Tuesday's election. The decision also dealt a blow to a group of Koreatown residents who argued that the map-making process diluted the neighborhood's voting power and unlawfully divided it into multiple districts.

Foes of the 2012 redistricting vote maintained that Wesson's district, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw corridor, was drawn primarily based on race, with council members explicitly working to increase the percentage of African American voters within its borders. Opponents said a district in South Los Angeles, now represented by Councilman Curren Price, was also racially gerrymandered.

In her decision, Marshall described both districts as geographically compact and racially diverse, unlike those that have been struck down in other federal court cases. The demographics, she said, “do not support plaintiffs’ claim that the city … engaged in the ‘unlawful segregation of races of citizens into different voting districts,’” she wrote.

Wesson praised the city’s lawyers for providing "excellent" representation.

“It's now time to move on with the city's business," he said in a statement.

The council's redistricting process produced grievances that continue to reverberate today. In South Los Angeles, Councilman Bernard C. Parks has accused Wesson and his colleagues of stripping his district of economic assets, such as USC. Meanwhile, candidates running to replace Councilman Tom LaBonge in Tuesday's election say their district is too sprawling, stretching from Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks and southwest to Hancock Park.

Koreatown activist Grace Yoo, who testified against the boundaries in 2012 and is now running to unseat Wesson, said she was "extremely disappointed" with the judge's decision. She said Wesson himself made statements that bolstered the plaintiffs' case.

In 2012, months after the redistricting vote, Wesson was recorded telling a group of ministers that the maps were drawn in a way that ensured that "a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years."

"We have Wesson talking about how these [lines] were drawn for racial purposes on video," she said.

In her ruling, Marshall said that the evidence showed only that "some individuals" -- Wesson and one of his appointees on the city's redistricting commission -- "may have been motivated by racial considerations." To prevail, the plaintiffs needed evidence to show that race was "the predominant or only motivating factor," she wrote.

The council district boundaries have been in place since July 2012. Voters went to the polls in 2013 to elect new representatives in roughly half of those districts. Tuesday's election will see contests for another seven council seats.

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