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L.A. City Council redistricting gets personal

June 29, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • Map of new Los Angeles City Council District 1 showing areas gained (green) and lost (red).
Map of new Los Angeles City Council District 1 showing areas gained (green)… (Los Angeles City Council…)

I’m moving this weekend, but I’m not sure it’s going to be that big a deal. I don’t have to pack anything or call a van company or rent a U-Haul. I don’t even have to leave my house -- because the whole house is moving. House, street, Highland Park neighborhood -- we’re all moving together, out of Los Angeles’ Eastside 14th Council District, where we have been for a decade, snuggled up against the Pasadena border yet right near Forest Lawn in Glendale while oddly taking in the eastern part of downtown and somehow still including Boyle Heights, the Pomona Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway and parts of town even farther south than Washington Boulevard -- and into the 1st Council District. We’ll still be in Highland Park but will now be grouped with Dodger Stadium, Echo Park, MacArthur Park and Pico-Union, and will be part of a district that reaches all the way west to Rosedale Cemetery, final resting place of Los Angeles’ early mayors. It’s 10 miles -- 10 miles! -- driving distance on four freeways from my home to Rosedale. That’s a City Council district?

It’ll be our second move in a decade without switching houses. Ten years ago our part of town was ousted from the 13th District, which was then and is today thought of as being centered in Hollywood, past the river, over the hills and away to the west from Highland Park. The council office certainly thought of it as being far off. We never got any calls back from the staff when we had questions or complaints about garbage pickup or graffiti. As residents of the 14th, our one request for service, after last November’s incredible windstorm that uprooted trees and left the street without power for several days, also went unanswered. Maybe it will be different now that we are moving again. Maybe not.

I lived in the 1st District in the 1980s and early ’90s, miles away in a section of town known as Lafayette Park, so this is a homecoming of sorts to anyone who thinks of a particular City Council district (rather than a neighborhood, a street or a house) as home. And of course no one does except at redistricting time, when council lines that for 10 years meant very little to most residents who don’t work at City Hall suddenly (but briefly) define community and common interest.

This was a redistricting year. The City Council gave final approval two weeks ago to new lines dividing 15 council districts, as the culmination of a ridiculously messed-up process that attempted to dress up the traditional backroom negotiations and power plays with the appearance of outreach, transparency and democracy. Some groups are planning a lawsuit, arguing that race was improperly used as the primary determining factor for where to draw the lines. Depending on one’s point of view, the chief victim, or the prize, is the midcity area known as Koreatown. Is it an actual, coherent, contiguous community that should (unlike Highland Park) be in a single council district? And if it is, should it be grouped with young, hip, tourist-oriented Hollywood or the traditionally African American and immigrant communities south of Olympic? Do immigrants from Korea have enough in common with immigrants from Bangladesh or  Thailand that they would or could form, together, an Asian-Pacific district? There are complaints as well from council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks that the final maps strip all the goodies from their districts and leave them with the poorest residents and voters.

And meanwhile, what about the rest of the city? What will it mean, if anything, to a person living in Highland Park to be grouped in a new District 1 with residents of Lincoln Heights, Chinatown and Pico-Union?

I need to know, not just because I live in the district but because I am a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, and we task ourselves with vetting candidates in elections like the one coming up next March, in which half the City Council’s seats are on the ballot. We endorse, but to do that with any kind of utility or credibility, we have to know more than we could get from an hourlong sitdown with each of the candidates. We have to know the districts that the candidates want to represent. Who are the residents; what are their needs, their challenges and assets; how do they define, combine and divide themselves; what do they want from or know about government?

Generally we glean this stuff from day-to-day reporting and pontificating about the city, but I’ve never considered that sufficient. For me the March endorsement process starts now, and I’m beginning with District 1 in part because I used to live there, and because as of Sunday, July 1, when the new lines kick in, I will be living there again. I’m going to try to take it apart, virtually, and put it back together. Company and conversation, advice and entreaties, are welcome.


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