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Council Districts Redrawn to Benefit Valley, Latinos

Redistricting: Galanter walks out of meeting after she loses her Westside base to Valley.

June 12, 2002|TINA DAUNT and SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles city lawmakers Tuesday voted to redraw the city's 15 council district boundaries to give the San Fernando Valley and Latinos more clout and to eliminate a Westside seat.

The council voted 14 to 0 to create a fifth district in the Valley--a move that will give Latinos a plurality in five districts, compared with four now.

The council's once-a-decade redistricting usually brings to a head political animosities and agendas--and this year was no exception. But the effort this time was shadowed by the city's secession movements, which are seeking to break the Valley and Hollywood away from Los Angeles and which most council members oppose.

To create another Valley district, the council moved the 6th District, now consisting of parts of West Los Angeles, Venice and Crenshaw, to the East Valley. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who has represented the Westside for 15 years, will start work in her new district next month.

Meanwhile, much of Galanter's old domain will be merged into Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's newly configured 11th Council District.

Galanter had sought to delay the changes until her term ends next year, arguing that it disenfranchises voters who have elected her to represent them since 1987. But the council majority, voting 9 to 6, said they wanted the new districts to take effect on the same schedule as in past years, a month after the council adopts the redistricting plans.

"The issue is ... about the Valley getting its fair share," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel. "Democracy delayed to me is democracy denied."

Galanter, who walked out before the council took the final vote on the new boundaries, countered that her colleagues "chose political expediency over representative democracy."

"Today, the Los Angeles City Council ignored the needs and wishes of thousands of Los Angeles residents by voting to implement the new council district boundaries immediately, instead of waiting for community residents to select their own representatives," Galanter said.

'A Sacrificial Lamb'

Dozens of her supporters urged the council to allow Galanter to serve out her term representing the people who elected her. Some also thought that the redistricting was a carrot being offered to Valley residents to vote against breaking away from Los Angeles in November.

"I feel like our community is being a sacrificial lamb for this whole process of secession," said Judy May, who has lived in the Westchester area for 34 years.

But Councilman Jack Weiss, who headed the council's redistricting committee, said he believes the changes were necessary.

"I think it's important that the council sends a message that the interests and concerns of one council member in this new council will not carry the day," Weiss said. "What matters is what is best for the greatest number of people in the city: that the Valley get its representative right away and everyone get equal representation right now."

Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close, who was a member of the citizens redistricting group that originally drafted the boundaries, said the council should have given the Valley another seat more than a decade ago.

And even with the fifth seat, "the political muscle is still south of Mulholland Drive," Close said. "With a Valley city, we will have 14 of 14 council seats."

The council, acting on the advice of a special citizens committee, redraws its district boundaries every 10 years to reflect new census data. City officials said population shifts over the past decade meant that the elimination of Galanter's district and the creation of a district in the East Valley were inevitable. The moves are intended to ensure that Los Angeles residents have equal representation in city government.

Under the plan approved by the council, the 1st, 7th, 13th, 14th and new 6th districts will have about 40% Latino voter registration or more, giving that ethnic community a plurality of voters. The council also ratified boundaries that maintain three districts in which African American voters constitute a plurality, the same as now.

And in a last-minute compromise, Councilman Nick Pacheco told his colleagues Tuesday that he was no longer seeking to take parts of Councilwoman Jan Perry's downtown district.

For months, Pacheco, who represents parts of Eagle Rock and Boyle Heights, had sought to extend his district farther into downtown by taking over City Hall and surrounding areas. Perry, however, launched a battle to keep her district intact--packing the council chambers Tuesday with hundreds of supporters.

Pacheco said he abandoned his plans because he was worried that a bitter fight with Perry would help secession efforts in the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood.

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