By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
Whether Little Tokyo will remain in the 9th Council District or Koreatown will be united into one district will depend on the redrawn map of the Los Angeles City Council. A 21-member citizens commission is seeking input from the public and Asian Pacific Islanders are urged to get involved.
Several members of the Redistricting Commission attended a press conference on Wednesday in Little Tokyo, including Arturo Vargas, chair of the redistricting commission, and commissioners Robert Ahn, Helen B. Kim and David Roberts.
“Redistricting means many things, it means empowerment and having the opportunity to have an equal voice and equal representation,” said Kim, an attorney and board member of the Korean American Coalition.
Every 10 years Los Angeles City Council lines are redrawn to account for changes in the population as tabulated in the U.S. Census. The goal is to have equal population in each of the 15 districts. The new district map must also comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Race cannot be used as a predominant factor in drawing district lines.
The 9th District, which includes Little Tokyo, is 8,629 residents over the ideal population and will need to shrink in order to comply with the city charter. At a Dec. 10 hearing, Little Tokyo representatives were vocal in their support for keeping the Japanese town intact and in the 9th district.
“It’s a historic ethnic neighborhood that’s been around for 125 years. It’s not too big, it’s rather small, said Bill Watanabe, executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center. “I think our first request would be we keep it intact. We don’t want to be divided up into different districts.”
Councilmember Jan Perry, who is termed out of her council seat, said during the Dec. 10 meeting that when she was first elected in 2001, she was asked to move Little Tokyo from the 9th District to the 14th District.
“We began redistricting when I was elected and immediately was besieged by my own colleagues to tear the district into pieces with a particular focus on moving Little Tokyo out of the 9th and taking other pieces of downtown and chopping it up,” said Perry. “What was most striking about that experience was that no one ever wanted to take Skid Row and no one ever wanted to take South Los Angeles.”
In November, Perry resigned her position as president pro tempore of the council partly in protest of what she saw as behind-the-scenes maneuvering on redistricting.
The commissioners stressed their commitment to public input and independence. The last in a series of 15 public hearings are currently taking place. At the end of January a draft of a new redistricting map will be presented to the public for further input. A final plan will be adopted by the Redistricting Commission by March 1, with the City Council voting on the new boundaries.
“We are pushing for an open, transparent and participatory process,” said David Roberts, Perry’s appointee to the commission and associate director at USC’s Local Government Relations Office. “We hope there is robust participation from ethnic communities as well as the neighborhood councils.”
The Redistricting Commission will hold two final meetings next week and is also accepting written comments by email and regular mail. The public can also submit their own suggestions for how to redraw the district maps.
For communities like Little Tokyo, Koreatown or Filipinotown, the redistricting process is important to ensure that they are not divided, diluting their voices on City Council. Kim said that at a meeting held Tuesday in the 10th Council District, many residents asked that the boundaries be based upon the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council. Parts of Koreatown are currently in the 1st, 4th, 10th and 13th districts.
She noted that consolidation of Koreatown would allow residents better ability to push for more green space and new parks, which are used by all of the residents. “For organizations like KYCC (Korean Youth and Community Center) and KIWA (Korean Immigrant Workers Alliance), a majority of their clientele is Latino,” Kim observed. “The division of Koreatown makes it harder to serve their clients.”
Public hearings will take place on Monday, Jan. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles City College Theatre, 855 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; and on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Expo Center, 3980 Bill Robertson Lane, Los Angeles. Written comments may be sent to the L.A. City Council Redistricting Commission, 200 N. Spring St., Room 275, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information, visit www.redistricting2011.lacity.org.