Mar 13 2012

Civic Circus on the LA Redistricting Battle

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Civic Circus Civic Circus with Ankur Patel breaks down local politics, with a weekly report on city, county, and state bureaucracies.

The gerrymandering continues for the 15 districts that make up the Los Angeles City Council and those that represent 7 elected seats on the Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In theory, to prevent gerry mandering, instead of the politicians themselves drawing the lines of the districts electing them, we have redistricting commissions that draw the lines on their behalf. Of course, the commission members are all appointed by the City Council members, and effectively act as their proxies.

The LA City redistricting commission is 21 members strong — 1 appointed by each of the 15 sitting city council members, 1 by the city attorney, 1 by the city controller, 1 more from the city council president, and 3 by the mayor.

These appointees act as a buffer by providing political cover for the elected officials that will benefit from redrawing lines, but for all intents and purposes it is obvious that the process has been corrupted. This go-around has been more obvious because redistricting commissioner Helen Kim, new to the incestuous nature of city politics, has been openly criticizing the process while confirming public suspicion of conflicts of interest.

To the Angelenos that are not familiar with redistricting and don’t understand why it is an important issue — outside of the fact that the districts look unnatural — let me point out some specific issues that highlight how the process is used to empower the politically connected while keeping potential opposition in a position of weakness:

District 1, currently represented by Ed Reyes, was altered to include the home of Reyes’ chief of staff, Jose Gardea, who will run for the district in 2013, while the same district was redrawn to cut out state assemblyman Gil Cedillo who is also running for the same seat.
Herb Wesson, the current City Council President is adding prized communities like Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills to his district, while allies like Jose Huizar get developer hot zones in downtown at the expense of political rivals like Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, making the process of redistricting that much slimier.

From Korea Town to the Foothills in The Valley, communities that are starting to understand the nature of Los Angeles politics, and becoming politically influential, have been purposefully broken up. Divide and conquer is absolutely a tactic that gerrymandering emphasizes and capitalizes on. For example, LA’s Korean American residents, upset at being broken up into four separate districts, are still unhappy at the City Council’s new proposal splitting them into two.

Meanwhile at the LAUSD, you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the 15 member redistricting commission for the school district is made up of political appointees, but the fact that 8 out of the 15 commissioners are appointed by LA city elected officials, is only too reminiscent of a game of musical chairs as career politicians move from one political body to the next. Monica Garcia, the current LAUSD board president, used to be Jose Huizar’s chief of staff when he was on the school board. In fact, it is well documented that the mayor has a working majority on the board of LAUSD, and is pushing the pro-charter school agenda.

And, Bennet Kayser, a board member that regularly voices opposition to Villaraigosa, has been disadvantage in any upcoming election under the guise of drawing another majority Latino district. In a fundamentally flawed redistricting process opposing the powerful leads to unfriendly maps.
It is insulting to the people of Los Angeles and the concept of democracy that arbitrary lines on a map are used to consolidate political power.

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