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Split by Redistricting, S. Wilshire Groups Unite in Suit

Times Staff Writer

An alliance of six South Wilshire homeowner associations is objecting to the Los Angeles City Council’s latest redistricting plan, claiming that it splits their neighborhood and reduces the effectiveness of their coalition.

The redistricting plan approved July 31 by the City Council splits the South Wilshire area, bounded by Fairfax Avenue, Wilton Place and Wilshire and Olympic boulevards, into two districts, the 4th and the 10th. Before the plan, most of the area had been within the 4th District.

Rumors that council boundaries may be redrawn yet again have only strengthened the homeowners’ resolve.

“If the plan doesn’t reunify the neighborhood, we would still have the same complaint,” said Richard Workman, 53, president of Windsor Village Howeowners Assn., one of the six associations. “And we would continue to fight.”

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The associations, which claim to represent 7,000 South Wilshire residents, have filed suit in U.S. District Court charging the council with fragmenting their neighborhood and reducing their coalition’s political effectiveness.

Workman and the five other association presidents are anxiously waiting for a hearing tentatively scheduled for Sept. 8 at which Judge James M. Ideman will hear challenges to the redistricting plan approved in July.

The associations’ suit, one of several challenges to the council redistricting plan, asks Ideman to declare the plan void and award the homeowners all legal costs.

“We’ve been working with Ferraro (of the 4th District) for 20 years,” said Owen Smith, president of Brookside Homeowners Assn., a plaintiff in the suit. “Now we’ll also have to deal with another councilman (Dave Cunningham), and what happens if the two don’t agree? Why divide South Wilshire when we have common concerns?”

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The council redrew its district boundary lines in response to a lawsuit initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice, which said that the council’s 1982 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by dispersing the voting strength of the city’s Latinos among several council districts.

Assistant City Atty. Shelley Rosenfield said the city will “vigorously oppose” any challenges to the redistricting plan.

“A group of homeowners cannot lay claim to being victims of political gerrymandering since they are not a political party,” Rosenfield said.

However, the homeowner associations claim their umbrella organization, the Wilshire Alliance, does constitute a political group.

Suing the city are Brookside Homeowners Assn., Miracle Mile Residential Assn., Windsor Village Homeowners Assn., Boulevard Heights Homeowners Assn., Fremont Place Assn., and Oxford Square Homeowners Assn.

“This area is noticeably cleaner of graffiti than other parts of the city. We’ve planted trees and have neighborhood watches,” Smith said of the quiet, shady neighborhood lined with modest to sprawling homes. “These things don’t just happen by accident. We’ve worked together on them.”

Kate Stern, 78, a Miracle Mile resident, said she would like to see more Latino representation on the City Council but not at the expense of her neighborhood.

“I believe good neighbors come in all colors,” Stern said. “But we have an integrated neighborhood here with a strong sense of community. This is an impossible situation to deal with politically if we want to continue working together.”

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Workman, a resident of the area for 53 years, said that one of the most important issues the alliance worked on was the Park Mile Ordinance in 1979, which regulates development along a section of the Wilshire corridor between 6th and 8th streets, bounded on the west by Highland Avenue and on the east by Wilton Place.

“An ordinance is only as good as you fight for it daily,” said Winifred Smith Rosenbaum, 71, former president of Brookside Homeowners Assn. “We worked like mad to get it (the Park Mile ordinance), and we still spend 20 to 30 hours a month preventing someone from getting a variance.”

Rosenbaum said she fears that unbridled development would result if the suit is unsuccessful.

“Some of us will sit in one (council) office being told one thing while some of us sit in another (council) office being told another thing,” she said.

The South Wilshire homeowners also object to having to divide their energies between Ferraro and Cunningham in their fight to defeat a Metro Rail proposal for an above-ground train that would run west along Wilshire Boulevard.

“It would be like the ‘El’ in Chicago,” said Lyn MacEwen Cohen, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Assn. “We’d have slums in this neighborhood by 1992.”

Bill Gilson, Ferraro’s press deputy, said his office has been flooded with calls from residents distraught about redistricting.

“I suppose they’ll have to be a stiffening of cooperation between our office and Cunningham’s,” Gilson said.

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Cunningham declined to comment on the issue.

Aside from the timing of the reapportionment plan, which residents said couldn’t be worse because it came just as they were getting ready to mount a fight against the Metro Rail proposal, the manner in which the council boundaries were decided bothers residents the most.

“The decision-making process was kept private,” said Molly Munger, the associations’ attorney.

Violation of Law

Munger said that the redistricting plan was carried out in violation of the Brown Act, a state law that requires public agencies hold open meetings.

Rosenfield said the city is still preparing its response to allegations that it violated the Brown Act.

“This is not to concede that those violations took place,” Rosenfield said, “but even if they did, it wouldn’t void the city’s plan.”

The associations’ suit is being financed through contributions by residents, and costs will probably run about $15,000, Smith said.

Some residents admit to being a bit mystified by the specifics of redistricting, but say they will not let that stand in the way of their efforts to get the city to redraw the boundaries.

“Our friends up the block are in the 4th District, and now we’re in the 10th,” said Diana Hearn, 37, a resident of Tremaine Street. “All I know is that the plan separated us.”


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