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Scholar Urges Delay in City's Redistricting

June 10, 2002|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Entering the city's fractious debate over the redrawing of council district lines, a USC law professor is advising Los Angeles officials to delay implementation of the new boundaries, which would allow Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to finish her term in her coastal district.

Erwin Chemerinsky said he believes the push to carry out any changes immediately would compromise the democratic process.

"Common practice throughout the country is that new election districts are implemented as of the next election and the next term of the legislative body," said Chemerinsky, who helped draft the city's new charter.

"There's a strong policy reason for this: It allows constituents to be represented by the elected official that they chose.

"Implementing new districts immediately undermines this important value of democracy in that it means that some or many voters are no longer represented by the council member that they elected."

The council is set to vote Tuesday on a new map of the city's 15 council districts, redrawn to reflect population changes in Census 2000. Nearly all the districts show some revisions, but the most drastic would be the elimination of Galanter's coastal district.

The proposal calls for setting up a new district in the San Fernando Valley by moving Galanter's 6th District, which now includes parts of West Los Angeles, Venice and the Crenshaw district, to the East Valley. In turn, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's district would be extended to pick up much of Galanter's coastal area.

Galanter is urging her colleagues to delay implementing the changes until after she finishes her term next year, even though Assistant City Atty. Anthony Alperin has warned lawmakers that they would need a "sufficiently compelling" reason not to implement the new districts immediately.

Hoping to bolster her position, Galanter asked Chemerinsky to study whether the council could legally delay the implementation date.

The law professor on Friday issued a letter on his findings.

"There is no legal authority that requires that new council districts be put into effect immediately," Chemerinsky wrote. "Nor is there clear authority prohibiting this. After carefully researching the issue, I believe that the better approach under the law is having new districts go into effect for the next election of council members and then for the terms beginning after that election."

In addition to deciding whether to delay implementation of new boundaries, the council must settle several turf battles over which lawmakers will represent key parts of downtown and south Los Angeles.

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