Los Angeles' combative redistricting battle is signaling a new, harder-edged political era at City Hall — one that some are tracing to the rise of new Council President Herb Wesson.
On Thursday, Councilwoman Jan Perry accused Wesson of gutting her district during the Redistricting Commission's latest map-making session, saying she was being punished for her refusal to back his bid to run the council.
Wesson responded that he doesn't take things personally and isn't paying anyone back. Some following the boundary drawing process are drawing a different conclusion.
Wesson's appointee on the redistricting panel, working with representatives of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Jose Huizar, formed a voting bloc with several other commissioners. During a nine-hour meeting that ended after 1 a.m. Thursday, they voted to strip Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and other neighborhoods from the South L.A. district represented by Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who like Perry has been at odds with Wesson.
In the proposal, Wesson's district would pick up those neighborhoods. Elsewhere, the panel took downtown out of the South L.A. district represented by Perry and put it into the Eastside district represented by Huizar. And in a final stroke, the commission took USC out of Parks' district and put it into Perry's. If the latest changes win final approval, Parks and Perry would no longer live in their districts.
Commissioner Helen Kim, who opposed the changes, said they were "absolutely" designed to punish Perry and Parks. "Parks has just gotten written out of the district where he lives. You don't think that's a slap in the face?" she said.
Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said Wesson is playing hardball in a way that his predecessor, Councilman Eric Garcetti, did not. And he argued that this year's redistricting process is far more politicized than it was a decade ago.
"The council appears to be at war with each other. There seem to be factions. The incoming president is coming with his team, and rewarding his team and punishing others — specifically Parks, and to a lesser extent, Perry," he said.
Perry and Parks did not show up for the Nov. 23 meeting in which Wesson was voted president. Parks said he specifically met with Wesson to discuss the presidency weeks earlier and told him he could not guarantee his support because of unspecified "personal issues."
Since then, Wesson yanked Parks off the powerful budget committee and pulled Perry from the panel that greenlights utility rate hikes. Parks also tried unsuccessfully to keep the Redistricting Commission from hiring a Wesson aide as its executive director.
Perry contends that splitting downtown from South Los Angeles would create a form of "economic apartheid" in her district.
Redistricting commissioners appointed by Villaraigosa and Wesson said the latest boundary changes were a response to public testimony at recent hearings. Wesson appointee Chris Ellison said key neighborhoods in Parks' district have wanted to leave it, an assertion that Parks disputes.
Commission President Arturo Vargas, a mayoral appointee, said all of downtown — a coveted hub of business activity and campaign contributors — should be in a single council district. And Michael Trujillo, an appointee of Councilman Richard Alarcon and a former Huizar campaign consultant, said downtown should be oriented toward Huizar's district, where some of downtown's blue-collar workers, such as custodians, reside.
Wesson has repeatedly sought to downplay any influence he has over the map-making process. "No single person controls this commission, not even the president," he said in a statement.
Maps incorporating changes approved this week come out Saturday, followed by more commission votes on Wednesday and Feb. 29.
Perry and Parks were not the only ones voicing disappointment. Koreatown activists failed to persuade the panel to move their community out of Wesson's district and into one represented by Garcetti.
In the San Fernando Valley, business leaders accused the commission of backing away from a commitment to have only one council district straddle the mountains between the Valley and the rest of the city.