An influential coalition of business groups has drafted a new map of political Los Angeles, arguing that significant expansion of the City Council would protect and even extend minority representation while improving constituent services, according to documents obtained Friday.
The proposed redistricting map--created by the Kamber Group for a contingent of executives known as the Los Angeles Business Advisors and other business groups, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Assn.--would create 35 council seats instead of the current 15.
Ten of those seats would be in the San Fernando Valley, one would lump Hancock Park with Koreatown, one would give San Pedro its own seat, six would cover South-Central and Watts and the rest would stretch from east to west across the city's central belt, with a handful dividing up the largely Latino Eastside and a few large districts encompassing wealthy communities such as Bel-Air, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
Proponents say a larger council would alter the body's working relations and that it could be created without costing taxpayers more money, if council salaries and staff budgets are reduced.
That idea has long been touted by business groups as a way to improve constituent services and at the same time dilute the power of individual council members by limiting their districts. But it faces significant political opposition: At least one poll has indicated that voters are wary of any proposal that would create more politicians, and Los Angeles County voters previously have rejected attempts to expand the Board of Supervisors.
What's more, any redrawing of the city's political lines is sure to land in a caldron of controversy: Latino organizations are uneasy about any reconfiguration that would blunt the growing influence of their constituents; African American groups are eager to protect their traditional council seats from the growing might of Latinos; and San Fernando Valley interests want assurances that they can have power over their area, which already is contemplating the idea of seceding from the city.
In its proposal, the Kamber Group attempts to address each of those questions, stressing that the new political boundaries would strengthen minority representation and solidify the Valley's council districts, which now meander in and out of the Valley.
"One overriding goal of charter reform is to create a Los Angeles city government that is more representative of the city's diverse population," the report accompanying the maps states. "The most effective way to accomplish this is to expand the City Council and thereby reduce the size of each council district to approximately 100,000 residents."
The larger council, according to the report, would provide for nine to 11 largely Latino districts, six to seven largely African American seats and possibly one Asian seat.
The Asian seat's boundaries are problematic, however, because although Los Angeles has a large Asian population, it is spread from the harbor area to Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Tokyo. Creating a single Asian-majority district is nearly impossible, and even proponents of the 35-member council idea acknowledge that it remains only a possibility even with the vastly enlarged panel.
Today's 15-member council has three Latino members, three African American members and no Asians.
"Thus, where today 40% of the council seats are held by members of ethnic minorities, we project that 46% to 54% would be held by minorities in a 35-member council," the report says.
At the same time, the map created by the group painstakingly addresses a key concern raised by advocates of Valley secession--namely, that districts including pieces of the Valley along with other parts of the city dilute the Valley's influence and contribute to its sense of alienation from the rest of Los Angeles.
Under the Kamber proposal, however, the number of districts wholly contained in the Valley would leap from four to 10. No Valley districts would overlap with districts from other parts of the city.
Harvey Englander, a political consultant with the Kamber Group, stressed that the census figures used to create the maps are from 1990, and that by 2000, the growing number of ethnic minorities and the rapid growth of the San Fernando Valley may further alter the political boundaries that ultimately are drawn.
All told, he said, as many as 13 council districts may end up in the Valley.
Two commissions, one elected and one appointed largely by the City Council, are reviewing Los Angeles' charter and preparing proposals for updating the aging document. Both have supported some council expansion, with the appointed group tentatively favoring the addition of four seats.
The elected panel has endorsed expansion but has not settled on a number. Its staff has recommended enlarging the council to 25 seats, but that recommendation was made before the completion of the Kamber analysis. The elected commission could act as early as next week on the question of council expansion.