Op-Ed: By all means, make redistricting in Los Angeles truly independent


Redistricting should be respected as a building block of our democracy, a core element of fair representation.

After all, voting begins with districts, which are redrawn every 10 years. Arriving at new district lines is a lengthy, arduous, often contentious endeavor that must follow census data and adhere to voting rights laws.

That alone should be enough to warrant respect for the effort.


But instead, the 2021 Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission has spent the last several weeks of our work under attack; the final map we proposed was delegitimized by members of the City Council last week (before the council even received the final report), followed by an announcement of a plan to hand over redrawing to an ad hoc committee of council members.

As the redistricting rules stand in Los Angeles, the commission acts in an advisory capacity; City Council has the final say on the map, but suggesting that L.A. start from scratch is no way to treat the commission’s work or the city’s need for a fair process.

With political appointees drawing City Council districts, rather than a truly independent panel, the process is fraught with gamesmanship and suspicion.

Oct. 25, 2021

All of this maneuvering explains why it’s time for a truly independent commission to assume responsibility for redistricting. As the chair of the 2021 redistricting commission, I know the process can work — when it is allowed to work. And I have seen the attempts to thwart the process. California Common Cause, a pro-democracy organization, is right to call for redistricting entirely separate from the City Council, and anyone who wants to preserve fair representation in Los Angeles should call for the same.

In some ways, the attacks on the 2021 commission’s independence were predictable, but the original 21 commissioners tried hard to make the process work by advocating for independence.

From the start, we established core values and guiding principles, including transparency and integrity. The commission approved a resolution calling for the City Council to ban ex parte communications so that elected officials and their staffs would not be able to interfere with and influence the commission’s work by communicating with its members outside of public meetings. Commissioners are appointed by council members, but they are meant to act on behalf of the city, not the council. The City Council refused to act on that resolution and let it sit.


There should have been outrage and protest about the council’s refusal to ban its interference; instead, there was a deafening silence that was a precursor to trouble.

The commission moved forward with its work, which faced unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic and delays in the release of census data. We worked in innovative ways, enlisting community-based organizations to help educate and involve residents in the process, and relying on technology for meetings and hearings. And we reported and publicly posted ex parte communications at every meeting.

The commission’s final map is the culmination of a year of hard labor. It represents many, many hours of public hearings and meetings. Some 15,000 residents participated — more than during the 2011 redistricting process — and more than 380 maps were submitted by the public and used by our staff as the basis for what became our final map. The final map also reflects the commission’s careful review of census data and adherence to civil rights mandates.

No map is perfect, and we don’t claim this one is, but it accomplishes important goals. In the commission’s map, Koreatown is finally unified in one district; five council districts are situated entirely in the San Fernando Valley with one majority Valley bridge district; Thai Town, Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown and diverse Jewish neighborhoods are kept whole. Black and Latino civil rights are protected. Far fewer neighborhood councils are divided.

The commission’s map satisfied many, disappointed some and angered others. In a city of more than 3 million people, it could not be otherwise.

The earlier silence on the issue of ex parte communication opened the door to political interference, including the sudden appearance of maps of dubious origin and the eleventh-hour drop and the swapping out of commissioners by council members in a bid to reshape the map in their favor. And finally, a declaration by some council members to discount the commission’s map altogether.

Lost in the melee is one simple truth: Our democracy pledges no allegiance to incumbents and their reelection, nor should our redistricting process. Preservation of old council district lines and protection of council members is not the purpose of redistricting. Fair representation is.

If the council, through the ad hoc committee, creates a new map, I wonder what process it will use? Will 15,000 Angelenos offer testimony and input? Will the new lines be drawn and discussed in public for everyone to see? Will there be discussion of Voting Rights Act mandates and census data?

And in what way will this process be independent?

Our city and our democracy deserve answers.

Fred Ali is chair of the 2021 Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission and a longtime nonprofit and philanthropic leader in Los Angeles.