At least one lawsuit likely as L.A. council district maps advance

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to new boundaries for its 15 voting districts, setting the stage for a legal battle with Koreatown activists and possibly two of its own members.

The maps were passed on a 12-2 vote, over the objections of council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks, who alleged that last-minute changes had been made without proper council review. Deputy City Atty. Harit Trivedi disputed that assertion, saying city engineers followed instructions given by the council three months ago.

The council also voted 14-0 to pay an outside law firm, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, up to $295,000 to defend the city if someone sues. Trivedi called the maps “legally defensible” but said city officials should have a legal team that can move quickly to prevent a judge from invalidating the maps in the months leading up the March election, when eight council seats will be up for grabs.

A successful challenge could “impact the 2013 elections, which is why we need outside counsel on board and ready to go,” he told the council.

The once-a-decade redistricting process played out over the last 10 months, exposing bitter divisions among the council’s three African American members — Parks, Perry and Herb Wesson, the council’s president. The effort also revealed simmering political discontent in Koreatown, where some civic leaders said they want their community removed from Wesson’s district and moved into one where they had a greater chance of electing an Asian candidate.

Perry and Parks threatened two months ago to sue over the maps, saying more affluent neighborhoods and institutions were stripped from their districts. Perry saw most of downtown moved into Councilman Jose Huizar’s district, while Parks lost USC and other areas.

“They’re playing reverse Robin Hood — stealing from the poor and giving to the rich,” said Parks’ chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr.

Koreatown civic leaders have tapped the law firms of Akin Gump and Bird Mirella, which agreed to take on the case pro bono if the redistricting ordinance is approved. Hyongsoon Kim, an attorney with Akin Gump, said the boundaries were drawn “primarily for racial reasons, and that is not allowed under the federal Constitution.”

Wesson disputed that assertion, saying through a spokesman that “the city has followed the law at every turn.”

“Race was never a predominant factor in our proceedings,” Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson said.

A final vote on the maps is set for next week. Chief Assistant City Atty. Pete Echeverria told council members that a legal challenge is “almost a certainty.”