Los Angeles’ Redistricting Commission unveiled its proposed boundary changes for City Council seats Wednesday, setting the stage for a series of pitched battles over neighborhood identity, ethnic clout and raw political power.
The maps sent one council district deeper into the San Fernando Valley, pulled another completely out of it and, in a third, employed what Councilman Bill Rosendahl called an “outrageous case of gerrymandering.”
Politicians, community advocates and neighborhood leaders quickly criticized the maps, saying they did not reflect the public testimony and community desires expressed at a series of hearings in recent weeks.
Koreatown activists, for example, complained that their request to keep their community in one district had been ignored.
Neighborhood volunteer Joe Barrett said members of his Sunland-Tujunga community would “flip out” over a plan to take it out of Councilman Paul Krekorian’s district.
And Councilman Bernard C. Parks told a meeting of the 21-member commission that his South Los Angeles district had been treated like a junkyard, with commissioners “trying to find pieces” to fit into other districts.
Despite such comments, the commission voted 11 to 6 -- the bare minimum to proceed -- to begin circulating proposed new maps for the city’s 15 council districts to the public.
Final boundaries must be approved by the commission on March 1 and then forwarded to the council for a vote.
Commission President Arturo Vargas, an appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told audience members in Van Nuys that the proposal was “a very rough draft” that would be vetted during seven upcoming hearings.
“This is definitely a work in progress, and I can assure everybody in the city that the final product of this commission will not be the same product,” he said.
A redistricting panel is convened by city officials every 10 years to adjust council district boundaries to reflect changes in population and ethnic makeup.
Part of that process is designed to ensure that Latinos, African Americans and other groups denied representation in the past have adequate opportunity to win office, as required under the federal Voting Rights Act.
New census data show that Los Angeles is now 48.5% Latino, 28.6% white, 11.3% Asian and 9.2% black.
Redistricting officials have been trying to ensure that the city has a minimum of five council seats that are heavily Latino and three that have sizable concentrations of African Americans -- even though the black population has continued to decline.
Changes in district lines can boost or sap the clout of sitting council members -- including those who are seeking reelection or higher office -- and enhance or diminish the voting power of ethnic groups.
The commission’s proposal would disrupt City Hall’s political status quo in large and small ways.
Councilman Dennis Zine would live slightly outside his west San Fernando Valley district during his last year in office.
Councilwoman Jan Perry’s district would be shifted south, causing her to lose much of downtown -- a coveted and resurgent hub of business and development -- while gaining Watts. Perry’s downtown home would be outside her district.
Councilman Tom LaBonge’s 4th District would see some of the most dramatic changes. His district would be extended from Silver Lake, where he lives, west to Bel-Air and then north to Encino.
And Rosendahl would see much of Westchester taken over by Parks.
“Do I like what they’re trying to do to us? Absolutely not,” said Denny Schneider, who complained that LAX and adjacent Westchester were being placed in separate districts.
Similar complaints could be heard in Sherman Oaks, which has been represented by Krekorian and Councilman Paul Koretz. “As much as I like Tom LaBonge, no one voted for him in the last election in Sherman Oaks,” said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., who served on the redistricting commission 10 years ago.
The proposed maps were, in part, a response to demands from local business leaders for a sixth council district entirely or largely in the Valley.
But another factor may have been the fact that LaBonge’s appointee on the redistricting commission was in France -- and has been participating via conference call.
“If you’re not there to throw a few elbows and stare people down while the people in the room are doing the work, it’s hard to get what you want,” said one commissioner, who spoke on condition of anonymity because panelists were not supposed to discuss their deliberations.
LaBonge said the proposed boundaries were disappointing.
Perry’s backers, meanwhile, organized a Thursday rally to protest efforts to shift much of downtown into Councilman Jose Huizar’s district, which currently includes a smaller portion of downtown and stretches from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock.
Tim Watkins, who lives near Watts and was on the redistricting commission a decade ago, warned the current boundary panel that the proposed changes would leave Perry’s district dominated by the city’s poor.
“You’re turning it into a district that really encompasses all of the people that are living in ... desperation,” he said.
The proposed district lines delighted Stuart Waldman, the president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., a group that is pushing for a sixth council seat in the Valley.
“You listened to me,” Waldman told the panel. “You listened to the neighborhood councils. You listened to the people of the San Fernando Valley.”