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LA Redistricting: Keeping the Politicians Out of the Politics

CITYWATCH - Redistricting … as in reshaping the boundaries of LA’s City Council Districts … rarely scores as the hot topic around the proverbial water cooler. The every-ten-year process is one the most under-the-radar-important exercise in government.
Yet, when the sun rises on the new maps this spring, numerous Angelenos will be living in a different council district and will be represented by someone they did not vote for. Neighborhood Councils will be affected. Some NCs will see their boundaries split by new City Council boundaries. Some could lose a City Hall relationship they have worked hard to cultivate and will have to start anew.

Redistricting is a political event. Only the most naïve and history challenged would believe otherwise.

City Hall politicians and hoards of lobbyists will be on this commission and its work like a flock of bluebirds on a swarm of June bugs. Keep in mind, in addition to the pros, LA’s citizens and LA’s neighborhoods become lobbyists in this contest. Protecting their homes and arguing for their communities of interest.

Consider also, this commission was appointed by City Hall politicians. Every Councilmember plus the City Attorney, City Controller and the Mayor (3) got a pick in this draft. As a result of population shifts in the most recent census, city council districts will contract, expand, shift. Do you think there might be a tad bit of pressure … appointer on the appointee … to protect his or her interests in the new alignment?

Historically, redistricting has been a secretive, backroom, political exercise. Gerrymandering was the way of the redistricting world. A quick look at the current district boundaries makes the point.

Politically powerful Council President John Ferraro gerrymandered his 4th District into the likes of Toluca Lake, Hancock Park, Windsor Square, the Miracle Mile, the Grove, the Original Farmers Market and Griffith Park.

Meanwhile, Joel Wachs … not always popular among his colleagues for his independent stand on issues … had his 2nd District contorted like a balloon figure into three different regions connected by the tiniest … if legally allowable … strips of land.

Traditional redistricting criteria require contiguous, compact districts with natural boundaries and communities of interest protected. You can see by the map how the politicians of the past respected that criteria.

The LA Redistricting Commissioners of 2011 have their work cut out for them. As the age of transparency continues to dawn, there will be considerable pressure to work in the daylight. With activist groups like Neighborhood Councils, Occupiers, Regional Alliances, and HOA’s flourishing …  there should be a reasonable amount of oversight, advice, nitpicking and demands to go around.

And, whatever the age, political pressure is not only the elephant in the room … it’s the constant and not so tiny bug in the Commissioner’s ear. Even the well-intentioned will not escape.

But the pressure is also on Angelenos. In this Internet age, with 15 First Round hearings scheduled … allowing you to speak or question or submit your advice in writing, with 95 Neighborhood Councils covering LA’s myriad communities, with regional alliances hosting redistricting info sessions … there is more opportunity … and fewer acceptable excuses … for Los Angeles’ citizens to make sure the Commission does its job and to advise the Commission on not only what’s best for their neighborhood but what is best for Los Angeles.

Become involved. Monitor the proceedings. Demand that the Commission listen. And that they walk the walk. That they make an effort to rise above the politics and do the right thing.

Make the same demands on your electeds. Rest assured, redistricting is about politics but through oversight, by setting an example, and by speaking out we might dilute the influence of politicians and lobbyists on the politics.

(Ken Draper is the editor of CityWatch. He can be reached at editor@ -cw

Tags: redistricting, Los Angeles Redistricting Commission, politics, politicians, lobbyists, City Hall, gerrymandering, City Council Districts, City Council

Vol 9 Issue 98
Pub: Dec 9, 2011