Council to Begin Redistricting Process With Series of Hearings
The politically charged process of redrawing Los Angeles City Council district lines will formally start with public hearings next week in a Latino section of the San Fernando Valley as city officials seek to change council boundaries that have come under a court challenge.
Council President Pat Russell and Councilman Richard Alatorre, who chairs a committee that will map the new districts, said Tuesday that four public meetings will be held in minority areas of the city to allow individuals and organizations to comment on revising present boundaries.
Those boundaries, drawn in 1982, are the target of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit alleging that council districts were gerrymandered to discriminate against Latino voters. Faced with that lawsuit, the council is redrawing district boundaries to try to remove any question of discrimination, which council members declare was never their intention.
“The purpose of the hearings is very simple,” said Alatorre, whose council Charter and Elections Committee will conduct the hearings. “We’re interested in making this as open a process as possible. . . . “
The first session is planned for Friday, April 11, at a recreation center in a heavily Latino neighborhood of Sun Valley. The others will focus on black and Latino areas of the city, Alatorre said.
Asked what he and his committee will be looking for during the public meetings, Alatorre said he expects to determine whether Latinos feel that the current boundaries are unfair to them and to measure the concern of black voters about any proposed changes in the present lines.
“We want to look at that and see if we can improve on what was done (in 1982),” he said. “Obviously, we have to unless we want to get sued again, and I don’t think the City of Los Angeles is interested in getting sued again.”
In its lawsuit filed last November, the Justice Department claimed that city officials had fractured the growing political influence of Latino voters through a “history of official discrimination” and asked the federal court to throw out the current reapportionment plan and order the city to draw up another.
Although they denied the federal allegations, council members agreed last month to revise district boundaries for the 15 members and to set a July 31 target date to adopt a new plan. Alatorre said Tuesday that the public hearings “will give us some indication of what is on the minds of people and what we can do differently next time around.”
Alatorre, however, told reporters that he is not inclined to remove incumbents from their current districts and dismissed a suggestion that the city rely on a computer to form new boundaries and avoid any political battles over the new lines.
“You can’t take politics out of a process that is inherently political,” he said.
Asked by a reporter whether the actual drawing of lines will be done publicly, Alatorre said: “You don’t do redistricting in public, so I mean if that’s the question you’re asking, we won’t. Anybody who tells you that you do it in public is lying to you.”
Attorneys for the city have asked a federal judge to either dismiss or postpone a decision on the voting rights lawsuit until the council comes up with its own solution. But John Wilson, assistant director for public affairs at the Justice Department in Washington, said Tuesday, “We do not believe that the (council) resolution renders the action moot.”
During Tuesday’s news conference, Russell, who was in charge of the 1982 redistricting, defended the current plan and denied the Justice Department’s contention that the city had ignored the pleas of Latinos in its deliberations.
Russell said a large public turnout was part of the process in 1982 and she said she hopes there will be a similar public response this time.
The April 11 public session is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Fernangeles Recreation Center, 8851 Laurel Canyon Blvd. in Sun Valley. Additional hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on April 14 at the Van Ness Recreation Center, 5720 2nd Ave. in Los Angeles; at 2 p.m. on April 21 at Los Angeles City Hall’s Public Works Hearing Room, and at 7 p.m. on April 28 at the Poinsettia Recreation Center, 7341 Willoughby Ave.