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Redistricting Revulsion

By this summer, if her colleagues adopt their favored redistricting plan, Ruth Galanter could end up representing some 246,000 San Fernando Valley residents during her last year in office. The new turf is about seven miles north of her present Westside district.

Galanter, one of the three most senior members of the L.A. City Council, would also cease to represent any of the 240,000 or so people living in her current district -- many of whom have been her constituents since she was first elected to the 6th District seat more than 14 years ago. Her district now includes Venice, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey, Westchester, LAX, and portions of the Cheviot Hills and Crenshaw areas.

“The question is whether this is fair to the people who elected me or, for that matter, to the people [in the proposed] San Fernando Valley 6th District who did not elect me,” Galanter said last week. Other critics of the new plan contend that redistricting a living council incumbent out of his or her place of residence (Galanter lives in Venice) is both unprecedented and legally dubious. “Both the old [1926] and the new [post-2000] city charters prohibit such an action,” said Rafe Sonenshein, who served on the appointed commission that revised the city’s governing charter.

The major problem with maintaining the present 6th District intact is the 2000 Census‘ finding that -- due to a loss of housing stock, among other reasons -- Galanter’s district has shrunk beneath the new, mandatory 246,000-voter district size. Backers of the new plan say that jumping the 6th into the Valley remains the best solution for a key objective in the 2002 decennial redistricting: to give the Valley, recently simmering with secessionist sentiments, five completely contained council districts out of the citywide total of 15. The district move -- with adjustment of other district lines -- would, it is argued, give the Valley‘s nearly 1.35 million people a a proportionate share of council districts in this city of 3.7 million citizens.

Currently, only the 3rd, 2nd and 7th districts are completely within the Valley’s geography. The 4th, 5th and 11th all overlap into the Valley -- but those districts‘ incumbents all live south of the dividing hills. The westerly portions of the current 6th would be glued to the other Westside district, the 11th, which would be shorn of its Valley segment.

The remainder of Galanter’s old district east of the 405 freeway would be folded into the bordering 5th and 8th districts. The addition of her Crenshaw precincts to a re-drawn 8th District would increase the African-American population of the 8th. This would abet another of the professed 2002 redistricting objectives: to maintain the 8th, 9th and 10th council districts as having majorities of African-American citizens.

The Latino Redistricting Coalition‘s Alan Clayton, the 12-year veteran of local redistricting wars who formulated the contentious plan, asserts that his idea is not only workable, but legal -- despite the fact that the county’s and the city‘s charters prohibit anti-incumbent redistricting. “The precedent is the redistricting of Herschel Rosenthal’s [state Senate] seat to the Eastside back in 1991,” he said. That this relocation was upheld by the courts provides, in Clayton‘s opinion, a case-law, if not a statutory, precedent for relocating a re-drawn council district well outside its original area. But a legal challenge would be likely, Clayton said: “This plan is not yet final,” adding that he intended to present a slightly revised version this week.

Under the new city charter, the basic work of redistricting still takes place directly after the release of U.S. Census figures. But now it is done by a commission appointed by the mayor and council members, instead of by a special council committee. The commission’s final proposals go to the council for approval this summer. If the Valley6th design reaches the council in something like its present form, Galanter said, “I have no idea where the votes will be.” With just over a year left to serve before she‘s termed out, Galanter is not at the peak of her influence as a council member.

Certainly, eradicating the present 6th District would solve some problems in this year’s redistricting. But it might cause other difficulties: Galanter notes that the proposed new 11th would include the highly contentious Playa Vista development. The 11th District incumbent, Cindy Miscikowski, who is not termed out until 2005, has recused herself in council Playa votes because her husband, Doug Ring, leases large properties in the adjoining Marina: Miscikowski would also inherit gnarly problems involving LAX security, pollution and expansion. And whoever wins the 2nd District runoff in March -- Tony Cardenas or Wendy Greuel -- might object to the proposed cession of many of that district‘s affluent, high-voting-propensity Van Nuys and North Hollywood residents into the new 6th District. Finally, there is a fear -- echoing concerns expressed at length during the 1999 charter deliberations -- that separating the councilwoman from her district would set a precedent for moving districts out from under unpopular members, thus consigning such members to political oblivion.

On January 2, Galanter’s office took the unusual step of e-mailing her constituents, asking them to protest the Valley redistricting bid before this Friday‘s comment deadline. In the missive, her district director, Michael Bowin, referred to the Clayton plan as “back-door political maneuvering.”

Galanter has counterproposed reshaping the 6th as a compact coastal district running from Mulholland Drive to the airport. But she noted that the redistricting commission had initially refused her request to hold a public meeting on the Westside -- although a January 16 Crenshaw-area meeting drew at least 300 people.

The elimination of a council district via redistricting is not unprecedented. As recently as 1987, a special court-ordered redistricting to create a new Latino seat eradicated the Valley’s 1st District and produced a new 1st on the Eastside, north of downtown. But this was shortly after the incumbent, Howard Finn, died in office.

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