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LA’s Redistricting Jigsaw Puzzle from Hell

POLITICS - One of my Fire service heroes, Dr. Carl Holmes, [link] has an interesting aphorism: “If it ain’t ‘broke’ let’s break it. With all the brains in this room we can rebuild it better than ever.”

That should have been the guiding principle communicated to the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission [link] as it commenced redrawing the political lines of the City. Instead, they have massaged the messy political landscape into a head-scratching, gerrymandered jigsaw puzzle.
The 21-member commission is comprised of community activists, business executives, lawyers and—of course—political operatives appointed by the City Council members and citywide elected office holders such as the Mayor, Controller, and City Attorney. Developing anything by committee is always a challenge. Divvying up 470 square miles of land occupied by 3.7 million people is, no doubt, daunting. That said, building the political framework from which representation will be chosen and decisions made for the next 10 years requires independent thinkers of intestinal fortitude.

There’s plenty to love and tons to hate about the Commission’s first pass. At a glance, the map—released Wednesday and described by Commission President Arturo Vargas as “a very rough draft” [link] — has some logical boundaries that keep several neighborhoods whole:

• Eagle Rock would remain in Council District 14.

• Council District 1 would umbrella most of Highland Park.

• All of Glassell Park would be in Council District 4.

• Downtown would no longer look like an object used in a Ginsu knife commercial.

But wait, there’s more:

A closer look at the side-by-side current and proposed maps, however, sears the retina with clear evidence of avoidance, blatant land grabs, distal communities geographically disconnected joined through creative Crayon work, and a total dismemberment of the Asian Pacific Islander communities, [link] which is almost criminal.

Such glaring omissions and sinful addendum must be the fault of a cluster of fools flying blind and making it up as they go, right?

Don’t take this Commission and its Executive Director—Senior Deputy Andrew Westall from Council President Herb Wesson’s office—for rubes, though. They know exactly what they are doing, whether the masses agree with them or not. When the final map is unfurled, it may not be inspiring—but the Commission appears to be doing everything in its power to demonstrate that they exhausted all due diligence.

A look at the Commission’s website shows its members to be a savvy bunch—not just politically but also from the media and technology points of view. From FAQs to news releases, historic data to exhaustive reports, the redistricting website seemingly screams obviation, telling any detractors, “Participate or Shut Up”—or, rather, “Participate then Shut Up”—depending on how you read it. And the absolute cherry on top is the “Draw the Districts” application, which allows anyone to go online and draft their own version of the map for submission to the committee.

The problem with the redistricting process is that existing districts are tweaked instead of new districts being drawn. Shouldn’t new districts—with all the demographic and political nuances that exist in Los Angeles in 2012—be sketched on a clean sheet rather than being rehashed from the politically driven maps of old? Ten years ago—the last time the lines were redrawn—the technology didn’t exist to do the type of detailed and time-efficient mapping now so readily available.

I always wished Dr. Holmes had trademarked his signature saying. But then Meatloaf wrote a song with the same title and dozens of motivational speakers turned it into business buzz-speak. It’s my sincerest hope someone does us all a favor and steals my idea to redistrict using a better way—by starting from scratch.

As Dr. Holmes might have advised—let’s “break” it!
Want your voice heard on the issue of redistricting? The City Charter requires the Council to adopt a redistricting ordinance no later than July 1, 2012. Public hearings have been ongoing since November 2011, with seven remaining hearings scheduled prior to creating the final map. Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday    Feb. 1       6:30 pm        Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd, LA 90005

Thursday        Feb. 2        6:30 pm       Loyola Marymount University, Ahmanson Auditorium
1 Loyola Marymount University Dr., LA 90045

Saturday         Feb. 4       11:00am       Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills, 90045

Monday          Feb. 6        6:30 pm       Occidental College, Thorn Hall, 1600 Campus Rd., LA 90041

Wednesday    Feb. 8        6:30 pm       LA City Hall, John Ferraro Council Chambers, 200 N. Spring St.,  LA 90012

Thursday        Feb. 9        6:30 pm       Walter Reed Middle School, Auditorium, 4525 Irvine Ave., Studio City, 91602

Saturday        Feb. 11      11:00 am     TBA

(Jon McDuffie is a writer, political and small business consultant and a retired Los Angeles Firefighter. He is also a contributor to CityWatch. These blog comments were posted first at

Tags: Jon McDuffie, redistricting, redistricting puzzle, politics, City Council, Los Angeles, maps,  redistricting maps

Vol 10 Issue 8
Pub: Jan 27, 2012