A plan to redraw Los Angeles City Council districts has won approval from a special redistricting commission, with panel members disparaging the five-month public process as ugly, dysfunctional and sad.
Even some who serve on the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission and backed the changes sounded ashamed of the final product, which passed on a 16 to 5 vote after an eight-hour hearing that ended minutes before midnight Wednesday.
Commissioner Jose Cornejo, who may run for City Council in one of the districts he helped create, called the proposed district lines — and the process used to create them — "ugly." Commissioner Rob Kadota, who also backed the map, said the commission failed to demonstrate equal concern for all parts of the city.
And Commissioner David Roberti, a former state senator well versed in power politics, said he felt badly about rejecting demands of hundreds of Korean Americans who called for the area covered by Koreatown's neighborhood council to be unified in a single council district.
"I am terribly guilt-ridden over the concerns of the Korean community," said Roberti, who cast a series of votes opposed by Koreatown advocates. "They did not win here, and 10 years ago [in the last redistricting] they didn't win either. And I was on that commission as well."
The redrawn map will be considered by the 15-member City Council next month. Korean American legal advocates, who have threatened to sue, are among an array of groups expressing dismay at the recommended boundary changes.
The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which had praised the commission's original proposal, criticized the panel this week for abandoning plans to create a sixth council district in the San Fernando Valley. And the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has repeatedly warned that the plan would probably reduce the number of Latino council members from five to four.
Council district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, following the release of new population numbers from the U.S. census. The process is inherently political because it can boost or sap the influence of politicians, neighborhoods and community groups.
This year's map was largely drafted by a voting bloc centered around appointees of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilmen Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar, Richard Alarcon and Tony Cardenas. The big winners have been Wesson and Huizar, who added coveted territory to their districts. The losers were council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks, both of whom have threatened to sue.
Commissioner Jackie Dupont-Walker, who voted for the latest map, said she was "saddened" for Little Tokyo and skid row, which were carved out of Perry's district, and Baldwin Hills, an affluent black neighborhood taken from Parks' district. Commissioner David Roberts, who fought unsuccessfully to keep downtown in Perry's district, said the proposed boundaries would make the public more cynical about government.
"I don't think I've ever seen a process this dysfunctional," he said.
Parks contends that his district was systematically dismantled, with iconic assets such as Leimert Park and USC shifted to other districts. Forescee Hogan-Rowles, who tried to unseat Parks in last year's election, told the commission that the "economic engines" were being taken out of her former rival's district.
Some were upbeat about the proposed changes. Andrew Westall, a former Wesson aide and the commission's top executive, said they reflected important achievements, ensuring that dozens of neighborhood council areas were not split between multiple districts. He contends Koreatown will be brought together in a single district — the one represented by his former boss — for the first time in 40 years.
That argument has not placated Korean American civic groups, which for weeks had been asking for a larger area that includes Koreatown to be moved entirely out of Wesson's domain and into a neighboring district that includes other Asian communities, such as Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown. Such a move would increase the chances of an Asian American winning a council seat, they argue.
Commissioner Michael Trujillo suggested Koreatown was simply a victim of its central location. "Unfortunately, the way the process goes is, if you're in the middle of the city…that's going to be carved up," he said.