Los Angeles Needs A Non-Partisan-Independent Redistricting Commission

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezOctober 30, 2021
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This week, the redistricting commission approved the final map by a 15-6 vote. Now, the final map will go to the city council, and the council members will eventually have to vote on this map by year-end.

Council President Nury Martinez was not happy and called a press conference and aired her frustrations and disappointments with the final map drawn by the commissioners. She vowed to set up an ad-hoc committee to take another look at the commissioners’ final product.

It was a display of hollow political theater for sure.

Council President Martines can not credibly claim ignorance here. She should know that this commission cannot carry out the primary responsibilities of making the needed adjustments for population changes and sincerely look out for the rights of “communities of interest.”.

The process of redistricting has been politicized, and the appointed commissioners lack independence.  It truly is a partisan exercise in gamesmanship with no regard to what is in the city’s best interest.

The way this process is set up, commissioners are given the mission to protect, advance, and enhance the interest of the politicians who appoint them.

Currently, redistricting commissioners are former elected officials, legislative aides who have worked for politicians, and many of them are political operatives. They serve at the pleasure of the politicians who appoint them.

Critics see the inherent “political self-interest” that comes when politicians appoint these redistricting commissioners.  What is best for  L.A. becomes an afterthought in this process.

The last time redistricting was conducted was in 2012; the process proved to be a tool used by then Council President Herb Wesson.  He used it to punish his enemies.

Districts 8th and 9th in South Central represented by Jan Perry and Bernard Parks respectively were punished by then Council President Herb Wesson. These two councilpersons had not supported Wesson’s bid to become President of the council. When the final map was drawn, Jose Huizar, who represented District 14, ended up with a “large swath of asset-rich downtown.” Downtown was under district 8th, represented by Jan Perry.

Jose Huizar was very loyal to Council President Herb Wesson.  Huizar was also rewarded with being the chair of the powerful Planning and Land Use Committee. Then, we all know what happened to Huizar.

Here is some background information on this redistricting process.  Every ten years, citizens and non-citizens are counted, the U.S Constitution mandates it.  State and local civic leaders use the results to redraw district boundaries. According to Los Angeles City Charter, “boundaries for the city’s 15 districts and LAUSD’s districts must be redrawn.”  This process usually takes place the year after the census has been completed.

In this week’s final map presented by the redistricting commission, Commissioners made significant changes to districts Nithya Raman, Paul Krekorian, and Bob Blumenfield represent.

Councilmembers Paul Krekorian and Nithya Raman are stunned by the proposed radical changes in their districts.

An interesting interaction between Nithya Raman and former city council Mike Woo took place via emails.  The emails have been widely read and were published on this popular blog.  Councilman Ryu had appointed Mike Woo as his redistricting commissioner.  Nonetheless, Nithya Raman defeated Ryu last year.  Mike Woo resigned and asked the incoming councilwoman Raman to appoint someone she might trust to the commission.  Although he still made the case to her to appoint him. She did not, and she appointed Alexandra Suh, a friend who had done community work.

Councilwoman Nithya Rama should have paid heed to former councilman Woo.  Her friend was not an effective commissioner. She was bulldozed by the other relentless forces representing other districts.   Councilwoman Rama later replaced her with LAUSD’s Board member, Jackie Golberg.  It was too late.

The substance of these emails was very revealing. Mike Woo had experiences with these city’s redistricting commissioners when serving in the council in the 1980s and early 1990s. Mike Woo gives a well-thought-out analysis of what he believes this redistricting commission does and the guiding principle used in making decisions. He explains to the incoming councilwoman Raman about the “self-interest and treachery” in this redistricting process. It was a very insightful analysis.

The newly elected councilwoman Raman also told Mike Woo that she was driven by “justice and equity.” Woo literally lectured her on raw politics 101 and told Raman, “wake the f**k up, you have been already elected, and you need to embrace the new reality.

Redistricting in Los Angeles is vitally important, but not many people follow this necessary process unless one is politically engaged or is a political operative. Los Angeles can do better. The current system in place discourages people from participating.

For starters, voters In Los Angels should demand a better selecting process for citizens to serve as commissioners.  Unlike California’s commission redrawing state legislature and congressional districts, individuals in this LA redistricting commission lack independence.

Moreover, there might be some restrictions, but overall, politicians have no qualms about their communication with the persons they appoint to this commission.  To make this redistricting process more credible, at the very least, “ex parte communications,” meaning communication between the politician and their designee, should be prohibited.

There can not be independence from the commission when some level of coordination occurs between the politician and the individual they have appointed to this commission.

Some of these commissioners swung and missed in trying to look independent.  They know that they have to embrace the desires of the councilperson who has appointed them.

Of course, these commissioners know that these self-interested endeavors have to be carried out in a way that does not interfere with civil rights statutes to protect certain groups in our communities.

There has also been harsh criticism to this redistricting commission for being indecisive. Citizens who were following this commission’s work questioned their ability to make sound decisions.  They saw USC being placed under district 8, and the following went back to district 9. That is problematic.

Come on, Los Angeles, a city of four million people with many different ethnic, religious, and socio-economic groups, should have an independent redistricting commission that is fully powered to make the final decisions rooted in what is best for the entire city.

Conflicted commissioners should not be part of this redistricting process. The process itself is essential for adequate representation in our democracy. It is time to start collecting signatures to have a needed ballot measure to amend this city’s charter.  So, L.A. can have an independent citizens redistricting commission.

Thank you for reading.

Chamba Sanchez


Photo Credit: Bigstock

Sources consulted.
“In Los Angeles, political meddling poisons redistricting.” Editorial.  Los Angeles Times 25 Oct. 2021.
Parks,  C. Bernard, and Jan Perry.  “How Jose Huizar’s alleged crimes may have been aided by redistricting.” Los Angeles Times 10 Aug. 2020.
Zahniser, David. “L.A. council president slams redistricting map, saying it has ‘alienated thousands.’” Los Angeles Times 22 Oct. 2021.

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