Memo alleges race was discussed in L.A. council district mapmaking

Memo alleges race was discussed in L.A. council district mapmaking
Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr. during a Los Angeles City Council meeting.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A high-level staffer to Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks has alleged that an aide to Council President Herb Wesson dismissed a plan for redrawing political boundaries by saying it would put “too many Mexicans” into Wesson’s council district.

Parks’ son and chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr., said in a memo that Wesson deputy Deron Williams made the statement last year during protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations over new council boundaries for two South Los Angeles council districts.


In his memo, Parks Jr. said that in January 2012 he discussed an alternative map for Council Districts 8 and 10, which are represented by Parks and Wesson respectively, with Wesson’s staff. Parks Jr. said the alternative plan was dropped in early February, after Williams told him “there were too many Mexicans” in an area that would have been assigned to Wesson’s district.

“I informed [Williams] that [Parks’ office] would not have any part of drawing district lines based solely on race,” Parks Jr. wrote. “He said something about the need [for Wesson’s district] to remain a ‘black seat.’”


The memo was posted on Parks’ city website earlier this year, along with other redistricting documents. Attorney Leo Terrell, who is representing six L.A. residents suing over the redistricting process, called a news conference Wednesday to discuss the “too many Mexicans” allegations.

Terrell contends that the city violated federal law by making race the “predominant” factor in the redrawing of political boundaries. Attorneys for the city previously have said that race can be a factor in deliberations over district boundaries, just not the overriding consideration.

In the lawsuit, Terrell asserted that boundaries were redrawn with the “explicit purpose” of putting more African American voters in the district represented by Wesson, who is black. By doing that, city leaders “ignored the voices of numerous residents of historically African American neighborhoods” who wanted to stay in Parks’ district, Terrell said.

Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson had no comment on either the memo or the lawsuit. City lawyers have argued that council members faced other legal pressures and would have been vulnerable to a court challenge if they dismantled existing, heavily minority council districts such as Wesson’s.


Parks and Wesson, who represent contiguous parts of South Los Angeles, were at odds over the redistricting process last year. Parks, who also is black, was unhappy that the final maps removed USC and the neighborhoods of Baldwin Vista, Village Green and most of Leimert Park from his district.

Parks Jr. also said in his memo that Mayor Eric Garcetti, while serving on the City Council, told him that Wesson was trying to increase the number of black voters in his district. During that conversation, Garcetti said that issues were being handled “in more of a transactional way” with Wesson as president, Parks Jr. said.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor has no comment.

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