Voters Scramble to Make Sense of New Districts : Remap Leaves Many Disoriented and Confused

Times Staff Writers

Two months ago, Mt. Washington's councilman was Joel Wachs.

Last month, redistricting split the community between council members Richard Alatorre and Mike Woo.

Last week, Mt. Washington was placed in a newly-configured 1st District, which has no council representation other than a non-voting caretaker.

"It's a terrible state of affairs and we're mighty mad about it," Mt. Washington Assn. President Lucille Lemmon told Woo, who was a guest speaker Monday at the group's monthly meeting.

In August, the homeowners asked Woo, who was then one of their new representatives, to talk about a proposed 100-unit housing development in nearby Elyria Canyon that is opposed by many residents. But, by the time Woo spoke to the organization Monday, boundaries had shifted again and he no longer represented the area. As a result, Woo spent most of his time defending the new redistricting to irate residents.

Mt. Washington activists are not alone in their anger. Throughout Northeast Los Angeles, the summer of redistricting has left many community leaders bitter and confused.

In Echo Park and Los Feliz, neighborhood associations fear the effect of having their communities split up among two or more council districts. In Atwater and Highland Park, people fret about having to forge new alliances with council members unfamiliar with local problems. Around Elysian Park and Glassell Park, some residents worry about not having a councilman for several months.

And everywhere, community groups say they feel disoriented by the events of the two months, during which the council debated three redistricting plans. Mayor Bradley vetoed two, and the council last week overrode his veto and thus left intact what is supposed to be the final plan--although opponents are still talking of overturning it.

"I've had to remind myself each day what district I'm in," said Barbara Vineyard, a founder of Neighbors of Dodger Stadium, a group dedicated to alleviating traffic caused by baseball games. Her group is worried that a recently funded city traffic study of the area may be slowed because Dodger Stadium has been shifted since July from the 4th District to the 13th, and now to the newly configured 1st, where a special election to fill what is a vacant council seat is not expected until at least January.

"You don't have any kind of continuity," said Diane Alexander, president of Friends of Highland Park. "You start with one person and have to pick up the next as you change districts. It's devastating." Before redistricting, Highland Park had been split between Wachs' 2nd District and Alatorre's 14th. Now Wachs has lost his Northeast Los Angeles territory and Highland Park is split between Alatorre and the 1st.

However, there also are activists in Northeast Los Angeles who are pleased with the final outcome. (That is, if it can be called final, given the threat by some San Fernando Valley residents to challenge the latest redistricting by in a ballot initiative or lawsuit.)

Redistricting began in response to a federal court order requiring Los Angeles to change council boundaries to provide increased representation for the growing Latino population. Some Latino groups are happy with the lines of the new 1st District, which includes such heavily Latino areas as Echo Park, Glassell Park and the lower Alvarado Street corridor. They hope it will lead to the election of a second Latino to join Alatorre on the council.

Activists in Woo's home base of Silver Lake also are pleased. Most of Silver Lake west of Glendale Boulevard is back in Woo's 13th District, which includes most of Hollywood and cuts north into Studio City. Under the previous plan, Silver Lake would have been split among the 2nd, 4th, and 13th districts.

"I think this is much simpler," said Alita Hanger, vice president of the Silver Lake Residents Assn. Under the previous plan, her group would have needed to have contacts with three councilmen, she said. "We would have had to act like a small country, with a diplomatic corps."

Some areas in Northeast Los Angeles were unaffected by the successive maps, such as the Eagle Rock neighborhood, which remained in Alatorre's 14th District throughout the summer.

But elsewhere, community leaders are still digesting the new boundaries and complaining about them.

Echo Park activists say that they feel their neighborhood has been sliced up among three districts--the 1st, the 4th, and the 13th--primarily to help Woo hold on to his involvement with redevelopment in Hollywood. Such a split, they claim, will make it more difficult to keep tabs on the rezoning of Silver Lake and Echo Park, which are covered by a single community plan and treated as an entity for zoning purposes.

"I have no problem in voting for a Hispanic person or an Asian person. That is not the issue," said Sue Nelson, president of the Elysian Heights Residents Assn. in the Echo Park area. "The issue is the community plan and growth."

Neighborhood Identity

Jeb Brighouse, president of the Echo Park Renters and Homeowners Assn., said redistricting ignored neighborhood identity, which he argued is as important as ethnic representation.

After weeks of debate, the council in late July approved a plan that put Woo, the first council member of Asian descent, into a Latino-dominated district in Northeast and downtown Los Angeles, then shifted around Wachs' district and protected most of the other council members.

Mayor Bradley vetoed that plan and the council subsequently approved a compromise that set up a probable race next year between Woo and Ferraro by combining their power bases of Hollywood and Hancock Park into a new 4th district. For a few weeks, Woo's Silver Lake home was in Ferraro's district.

Split Up 1st District

That plan was in turn scrapped after the death of Councilman Howard Finn last month. Woo and Ferraro drew up plans that gave them back much of their original constituencies and divided what had been Finn's 1st District in the San Fernando Valley between Wachs and Ernani Bernardi of the 7th District. A new 1st District was created in Northeast and downtown Los Angeles.

Saying it was unfair to the Valley, Mayor Tom Bradley vetoed that plan. But the City Council on Friday overrode the veto, 11-3.

Under the new plan, Ferraro's district has two wealthy neighborhoods: Hancock Park, his home base, and Los Feliz north of Los Feliz Boulevard and Rowena Avenue. Those are connected by a very thin corridor through Echo Park and Atwater.

Woo, who had represented all of Los Feliz at the beginning of the summer, now has its southern parts. Some civic leaders say that Woo, a liberal, was willing to give up the Los Feliz hills because many voters there are conservatives. Some Los Feliz residents say they resent the splitting of the neighborhood.

Will Miss Deputy

In Atwater, which had been represented until recently by Wachs, homeowner association president Ed Waite said he thinks his community can work well with Ferraro, although activists there will miss the help of Arline DeSanctis, who was Wachs' deputy for Atwater and other parts of Northeast Los Angeles.

The feeling of rapid change is intensified in parts of Woo's district because at least two of Woo's field deputies for the Silver Lake and Hollywood areas were recently fired. Larry Kaplan, Woo's chief deputy, said the firings were prompted by the prospect of a tough race against Ferraro and the need for more seasoned campaigners. The firings are not expected to be rescinded, even though such an election has been avoided, he said.

Meanwhile, the city's chief legislative analyst, William McCarley, has been appointed to look out for the interests of the new 1st District. However, he does not have a council vote, prompting fears among residents that they have no power in the council to resist development plans.

At Monday's meeting of the Mt. Washington group, residents' association president Lucille Lemmon said:"We feel a little bereft, to say the least. But I think, if we just ride along and stay very alert . . . we will weather the storm."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World