L.A. on the Record: What’s happening with independent redistricting?
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In the immediate wake of the audio leak that upended City Hall in October, Angelenos who rarely thought about local government were suddenly referencing council members by their first names like they were reality TV characters.
And redistricting — a relatively arcane subject closely watched by political insiders every 10 years and seldom invoked by the average voter — was now the talk of the town.
Everyone had an opinion, most of which boiled down to: The current system is flawed, time to fix it.
The initial feverish intensity has subsided some, but the real work remains for the push toward independent redistricting in the city.
Under the city’s current redistricting system, the City Council has the final say over the maps and elected officials can appoint members to the redistricting panel who essentially act as their proxies. An independent commission would take that power away from the council, with the district maps being adopted by the panel and filed with a city elections official. The state and the county already have independent redistricting processes.
Two proposals are currently being considered, one at the city level and one at the state level, along with a few complicating factors at play.
One obvious hurdle is that reforming the city’s redistricting process requires a City Charter amendment, which is a lengthy and cumbersome process that includes a vote of the public. Action by the City Council would put a charter amendment on the ballot for voters to consider.
Experts say that even if state lawmakers successfully pass their bill, a charter amendment would probably still be needed to force the change — making that path quite a bit murkier.
The issue got brief play in council this week, with council President Paul Krekorian introducing a resolution Tuesday to formally oppose state Sen. María Elena Durazo‘s bill.
Durazo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement Friday, Krekorian spokesperson Hugh Esten called Durazo’s bill a “power grab by the state Legislature” that would be unlikely to survive legal challenges.
The bill, he said, would take redistricting “out of the hands of the city’s voters and give responsibility for designing our redistricting process to legislators from all over California from Eureka to San Ysidro.”
Krekorian’s resolution, which was seconded by Councilmember Nithya Raman, notes that the city’s analysis is already underway with public input and says L.A. voters “deserve to decide the terms of their own redistricting process.”
Which brings us to the other complicating factor: Making a faulty system better isn’t like flipping a switch. It requires actually designing a better system, with adequate safeguards to not just pronounce the new commission “independent” but also protect against all kinds of potential influence.
The city proposal is currently in the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform, which will meet Monday, according to Krekorian’s office.
During the committee’s last meeting in December, Assistant Chief Legislative Analyst John Wickham spoke at length about his office’s research thus far and the potential challenges ahead.
“What we’ve seen is the concept of independence actually flows into a lot of different steps across the process, and that there are degrees of independence,” Wickham said, explaining how this could play out in everything from commissioner selection to budget approval.
The city’s effort actually well predates the leak — the proposal was introduced by Krekorian and Raman way back in December 2021, with the hopes of getting it on the November 2022 ballot, which obviously didn’t happen. (Krekorian and Raman forged an alliance over the issue that year, working together to stop plans by the redistricting commission to dramatically redraw their districts.)
The most obvious goal for the city’s charter amendment would now be the November 2024 ballot, which would give the city until late June 2024 to finalize its plans and still meet the ballot deadline, according to the city attorney’s office.
The ad hoc committee is waiting on two reports, one from the legislative analyst’s office examining best practices for independent redistricting commissions and an independent, philanthropically funded report from the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
Raman said she hopes that the committee will consider both reports to identify the best options for the city.
Chatting briefly with a reporter after Friday’s council meeting, Councilmember Tim McOsker said he’d like to see public hearings held as part of the process to gather community input on various criteria.
McOsker, who is not on the ad hoc committee, supports bringing an independent redistricting charter amendment to the voters.
“You rarely see something where there’s so much consensus on the overall goal,” said local governance expert and Pat Brown Institute Executive Director Raphael Sonenshein, speaking generally about independent redistricting efforts in the city. “The real challenge is to create the right process.”
State of play
— MORE MOORE: The Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously approved a second term for LAPD Chief Michel Moore on Tuesday, with the support of Mayor Karen Bass (more on this a bit farther down).
— OVERSEEING LAPD: With the selection of Moore out of the way, Bass plans to name two new appointees to the Police Commission next week: Erroll Southers, a professor at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy and an expert on counterterrorism and homeland security; and Rasha Gerges Shields, a partner at the law firm Jones Day, who served on the commission’s Advisory Committee on Building Trust and Equity. It’s not yet clear whom these new appointees will replace on the five-member commission, which serves as the civilian oversight body for the LAPD.
— PLANNING POSSE: Bass also named two new appointees to the city’s powerful nine-member planning commission: Elizabeth Zamora, CEO of the nonprofit Bright Prospect College Access, and Maria Cabildo, director of housing and economic opportunity for the California Community Foundation. Cabildo served previously on the planning commission and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2017. Zamora previously served on the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and is married to former City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who is on Bass’ transition team and has been advising her informally on homelessness.
Bass also made some personnel moves, announcing that Jenna Hornstock, who’s currently deputy director of planning for land use at the Southern California Assn. of Governments, will serve as deputy mayor on housing issues. She initially named Guillermo Cespedes, who at one point led the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development for former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to lead her Office of Community Safety. Days later, Cespedes withdrew from consideration. Bass then named Karren Lane, who initially had been tapped to serve as deputy mayor of community empowerment, as her new deputy mayor for community safety.
— D.C. DELIVERS: Bass celebrated the federal government’s decision to award $60 million to the L.A. region to combat homelessness over the next three years — money that will go toward housing vouchers, motel stays and other forms of assistance. Bass, a former member of Congress, said the funding was an example of her effort to leverage relationships in Washington, D.C.
— DON’T FENCE HIM IN: Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez returned to one of his campaign promises this week, saying once again that he intends to take down the fence around Echo Park Lake. Soto-Martínez told Kate Cagle of Spectrum News 1 he hopes to remove the fence, which went up in 2021 just as a homeless encampment was being cleared out, by late March.
He was less specific in his own announcement, declining to give a date. “We don’t want to rush this,” he told The Times. “We want to have all of our resources, service providers, and outreach workers lined up and ready to go before finalizing an exact date for the fence’s removal.”
— HERB HONORS: Former Council President Herb Wesson was honored at length as part of the Black History Month celebration at Wednesday’s council meeting. After kind words from Bass and Tiffany Haddish, Wesson’s former colleagues announced plans to rename City Hall’s south steps in his honor. (Wesson, for those newer to city politics, would famously and frequently sneak out for smoke breaks on those very steps.)
BLM vs. Bass
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., regularly describes L.A.’s newest mayor as a longtime friend. But things were not so friendly this week after Bass came out in favor of Moore’s reappointment.
Abdullah, a longtime critic of Moore, responded to Bass’ announcement by saying on Twitter that she was “disgusted with lying #LosAngeles politicians who feign concern when #TyreNichols is killed in Memphis, but co-sign on police murders in their own city.” At a news conference, Abdullah said she felt betrayed by the mayor. She also took aim at Bass’ heavy emphasis on fighting homelessness, saying those efforts shouldn’t come at the expense of police reform.
Bass said Thursday that she did not know what Abdullah meant by “lying” politicians, noting that she personally called Abdullah to let her know of her decision on Moore “before it hit the press” on Tuesday.
“I said: ‘I know you won’t be happy about this, but this was my decision,’” Bass said.
The mayor said she agrees with Abdullah on at least one thing: That the push for police reform should not take a back seat to the fight against homelessness. Bass said she’ll soon move ahead with her public safety strategy, spending a full year asking Angelenos across the city “what they need in order to be safe.”
“I have to work at a speed that I feel is the most thoughtful, that will make appropriate decisions, so that we don’t have unintended consequences,” she said.
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- Who’s running the city? Karen Bass. Eric Garcetti, who has long since left the building, remains in ambassadorial limbo. But his visage took its permanent place in the 26th floor mayoral portrait gallery this week, with the unveiling of a Shepard Fairey-designed portrait. The red-and-blue portrait feels a little like a Xerox of Fairey’s famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster, with Garcetti’s face layered in at some point amid the Xeroxing. A 2028 Summer Olympics logo and the words “Justice” and “Equity” hover on either side of his head.
- Dig of the week: “From the outside, it smacks of all those celebs touting Rick Caruso for [Los Angeles] mayor. Sigh.” — A Puck reader weighing in on actress Andrea Riseborough’s shocking Oscar nomination, which came after an aggressive grassroots push and sparked much Hollywood hand-wringing. (Much like Caruso, the Riseborough campaign featured many a Hollywood celeb voicing their support on social media.)
- On the docket for next week: Regular council business.
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