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Politics

L.A. City Redistricting Land Grab: Appointed Commissioners Try to Gerrymander Westside, Downtown

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Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Should Westchester be carved from the Westside? - LOSANGELES.BLOCKSHOPPER.COM
  • losangeles.blockshopper.com
  • Should Westchester be carved from the Westside?
Updated at the bottom with a map of the land grab. This just got ugly.

Every 10 years, Los Angeles is required to readjust its 15 City Council districts to accomodate for population shifts.

But as with most decisions made at City Hall, the 2012 redistricting effort has turned from what should be a simple, logical task into an all-out land grab. Although the redistricting commission's meetings are often held behind closed doors (which is a huge problem in itself), info leaked to the Los Angeles Times about the working map...

... indicates that some City Councilmembers' appointees are attempting to snatch the areas of L.A. with the most potential for development, then incorporate them into their own districts. Because any weathered citywatcher knows: Every new skyscraper means a real-estate mogul who's willing to kiss a politician's behind (aka, plumpen their campaign fund) for a tax break or some other party favor.

The city's 20-member redistricting commission is a far cry from the state's voter-created, goody-two-shoes version, made up of average Joes who were certainly not selected by the very same pols who would benefit from shady gerrymandering.

click to enlarge Don't mess with Jan Perry's downtown.
  • Don't mess with Jan Perry's downtown.
The roster for L.A.'s commission is an embarrassing who's-who of career City Hall puppets -- those guys and gals repeatedly stuck into commission/committee seats by elected officials who can count on them to stick to the script. To say the 2012 redistricting commissioners are cloaked in this culture of self-preservation and nepotism is an understatement; they are the fibers that give it form.

Take Michael Trujillo, the mouthpiece selected by City Councilman Richard Alarcon to represent City Council District 7 on the commission. It only takes an institutional memory of about one year to trace Trujillo back to that terrifying email, sent on behalf of City Councilman Jose Huizar's re-election campaign, which read, "We are about to put a political bullet in between Rudy Martinez's forehead and make him pee in his pants too." (Among other creepy obscenities.)

And most recently, in what appeared to be a violation of his terms as redistricting commissioner, Trujillo was caught celebrating the victory of another City Council candidate, as if he had helped helm the campaign.

Seriously, how is this dude still on the council's list of potential hires? As LA Weekly news editor Jill Stewart wrote, "City Hall is badly in need of people who are good at policy, not politics. Trujillo isn't good at either." How appropriate, now, that this incurable negative-campaigner should be hand-picked (sloppy seconds!) by Councilman Alarcon, the most nepotistic of the bunch, currently being investigated for felony voter fraud/perjury after very clearly moving outside his own district.

So you see the type of talent you've got repping your friendly neighborhood interests in the sculpting of Los Angeles.

The parts of town being fought over hardest by councilmembers and their commissioners have one thing in common: They're wealthier areas, either on the ups or already hotspots for "elegant density" and higher property taxes. Some examples from the Times:

Councilman Bernard C. Parks doesn't want to lose Baldwin Hills, the upscale, predominantly African American neighborhood where he lives [to Council President Herb Wesson].

Another group of commissioners is pushing for Councilman Jose Huizar's Eastside district to absorb a much larger part of downtown -- including Bunker Hill and Little Tokyo. ... [Councilwoman Jan Perry], who represents a district stretching from downtown to South L.A., said that would leave her district dominated by low-income neighborhoods.

MALDEF, the Mexican American advocacy group, called for LAX to be moved into Parks' district. That idea drew the anger of [Councilman Bill Rosendahl], who represents the airport area and has focused on aviation issues.

.. A 10-member panel that met past 9 p.m. Tuesday drafted a plan to move Westchester out of the coastal district represented by [Rosendahl].

The drafting decisions don't seem to have anything to do with new Census numbers. Instead, the council has turned into a bunch of bickery five-year-olds in a toy store, fighting over who should get the prettiest castle. That last move, especially -- cutting Westchester out of the Westside -- would be an unabashed case of gerrymandering, leaving only a thread of playa to connect LAX to Venice.

"I would go ballistic if someone tried to take the airport," Rosendahl tells the Times. Of course he would: LAX is the decorated cash cow of Los Angeles. That's probably why Parks is drooling over it, too.

Perry is equally dramatic about possibly losing her booming urban center: "If you split downtown L.A. and South L.A., you condemn South L.A. to a form of economic apartheid," she says to the Times. It would also condemn Perry to focus on fixing up the ghetto portion of her district, instead of just fawning over the L.A. Live kingdom and influx of hipsters.

To add to the circus, various minority groups have been lobbying for more homogenous city districts so they can see a face like theirs at City Hall. See: "Gays, Asians Fight for Own City Districts in Los Angeles Redistricting Battle."

In short -- what should have been a neutral, balanced effort to perfect L.A.'s massive puzzle pieces (an effort that CityWatch initially said "lacked sex appeal"; oh, if only!) has come to epitomize the insatiable power hunger that drives decision-making at City Hall.

If you still want to pretend that you have a say in the redistricting process, the commission will meet today -- and possibly take a final vote on the draft -- in room 340 at 4 p.m.

However, as of 1:30 p.m., two-and-a-half hours before the meeting, no draft has been posted to the commission's website, as promised. Not sure how the public is supposed to comment on something they haven't even seen.

Update, 1:45 p.m.: The commission just Tweeted the proposed map. This is some of the most hilarious gerrymandering since the Central Coast's ribbon of shame:

click to enlarge ENS.LACITY.ORG
  • ens.lacity.org
Compare the new gummy-worm districts to the city's current ones, all very blockish and uniform:

click to enlarge REDISTRICTING2011.LACITY.ORG
  • redistricting2011.lacity.org
For close-ups of the changes, see the full PDF. But right off the bat, it's clear that the redistricting rumors were true. Westchester has been gerrymandered away from Rosendahl (seriously, how many millimeters wide is that string connecting Westchester to Parks' district?), and Perry is surely melt-screaming like the Wicked Witch to see that the economic powerhouse of her kingdom -- almost the entirety of downtown Los Angeles -- has been gifted to Huizar.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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