LA City Council backs putting independent redistricting commission on ballot

Under the proposal, the commission would be charged with establishing district lines for both the city and LAUSD.

City News Service
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
LA City Council backs independent redistricting commission
The city council voted Tuesday to begin the process of placing a measure on the 2024 ballot or sooner that would create an independent redistricting commission.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- One week after three council members and a top county labor official were heard on a taped 2021 conversation attempting to impact last year's redistricting process in favor of themselves, the City Council voted Tuesday to begin the process of placing a measure on the 2024 ballot or sooner that would create an independent redistricting commission.

Under the proposal, the independent commission would be charged with establishing district lines for both the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The council sought to model the commission after those in the state of California, the counties of Los Angeles and San Diego and the cities of Long Beach and Berkeley. Under the recommendations, the commissioners would be chosen at random from a pool of applicants vetted by an independent body, and would not be allowed to hold elected office prior to or after holding the position for a certain amount of time.

Under the current redistricting process created in 1999, council members appoint representatives to a 21-member redistricting commission, which meets every 10 years to redraw council district boundaries. The panel's recommended lines, however, are then submitted to the City Council, which makes the final determinations on the district boundaries.

The leaked conversation between then-Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and then-head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor Ron Herrera took place last October while the commission was meeting, with the council members each attempting to have maps drawn in their favor.

The idea of an independent redistricting commission was first brought forth under a motion by Council members Nithya Raman and Paul Krekorian last December, and came before the council at an especially prescient time. Both Raman and Krekorian expressed frustration at Tuesday's meeting that it took nearly a year for the item to be heard, losing the opportunity for the issue to come before voters this year.

"This moment for change was here long before those tapes leaked,'' Raman said. "The calls to make this change in redistricting is not a new one.''

The motion noted that commissioners may have financial, political and personal conflicts of interest "that undermine the integrity of the redistricting process.'' It also claims that the city charter does not make clear the commission's mission, leaving commissioners without proper criteria to guide their decisions and "prioritize certain voices over others.''

The council's decision Tuesday came alongside City Attorney Mike Feuer's proposal for the council to hold a special election next spring that would create new council maps prior to the 2024 election. The council voted separately Tuesday to begin the process of placing a ballot measure before voters in 2024 that would increase the number of council districts in Los Angeles.

"There should clearly be an independent redistricting commission,'' Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, told City News Service. "It really should have been done four or five years ago when redistricting was not such a hot issue.''

In the leaked tape, the three council members discuss how they might build "Latino strength for the foreseeable future,'' de León said.

Latinos represent less than one-third of the council districts despite making up half of the city's population.

Martinez called those on the redistricting committee "so-called purists'' and hinted that they should take direction from the council because they were appointed. She said the committee members had "f--- gone rogue'' and were "f--- useless at this point.''

"They feel like they're in charge of themselves,'' Martinez said.

She added, referring to de León and Cedillo: "I'm just trying to get the majority a good district so you all can get re-elected.''

"But if you push a whack map you're going to end up with a f--- disaster on the council,'' Martinez said.

The four officials later discussed how they could redistrict Koreatown, a majority Latino neighborhood. Martinez said Raman was "making a play'' for Koreatown but she wasn't going to entertain the idea.

"There are some people who don't warrant us rescuing them,'' Cedillo said, referring to Raman. "She doesn't matter. She's not our ally. She is not going to help us. Her district is not a district we can count on.''

Raman is up for re-election in 2024. Martinez said it would serve them to not give Raman all of Koreatown because it would give Raman more renters in her district.

"I told her that's not happening,'' Martinez said. "You're going to get the district that you're going to get. You're going to have to run. And probably in a district where more than half of them don't know who you are. Go f--- do the work and see if you can get re-elected.

"Our commitment is not to re-elect her.''

Martinez then described people living in the area of Lafeyette Park and Shatto Place of Koreatown as "short dark people.'' She added "tan feos,'' Spanish for "They're ugly.''

"I don't know where these people are from,'' Martinez said. "I don't know what village they came (from), how they got here.''

De León said that Raman's district is "the one to put in the blender and chop up, left or right.''

"Yeah,'' Cedillo responded. "Why not?''

Cedillo later talked about certain areas that he was afraid would be drawn into his district, and requested that his district move more to the south and the west. He said he didn't want to represent Elysian Valley, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights.

"I don't need those areas,'' Cedillo said. "I have poor people.''

Cedillo said that in comparing the population and political makeup of a district, "the politics are as important to us as the population.''

"The voters go to work in Lincoln Heights and come home in Lincoln Heights,'' Cedillo said. "But the activists, they're there 24/7. And theydon't want us.''

During Tuesday's meeting, Raman referred to De León's quote in the tape, stating that the power of renters had been "cynically put in a blender and chopped up.''

"What came out of the recordings was clear evidence that our city's process was manipulated for personal, political gain, at the explicit expense of struggling Angelenos,'' Raman said. "These recordings were very open about their intent to reduce the voting power of renters, ironically at a time when renters in the city were perhaps at one of their most vulnerable moments due to COVID.''

Raman said she ran for office because she believes in the power of government to do good.

"But I do think that requires us to create governance structures that force this council to act with integrity,'' Raman said.

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