By RYOKO NAKAMURA AND GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu Staff Writers
On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission voted 16-5 to approve a map redrawing boundaries that will remove Little Tokyo from the 9th Council District and divide Koreatown into the 10th and 13th Council Districts.
The vote came after an eight-hour session in City Council chambers that left few happy with the newly drawn council district map. Every 10 years Los Angeles City Council lines are redrawn to account for changes in the population as tabulated in the 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.
Grace Yoo, executive director of the Korean American Coalition, said KAC and other Asian American organizations, including the Korean American Bar Association, are seeking to file a lawsuit to fight the proposed district boundaries. The map now goes to the City Council, which will cast the final vote.
“I know what a lawsuit takes, they’re causing such an injustice, such a cheating and scamming of democracy that as someone who believes that our American system of government is better than any other. I have to do my part to defend democracy,” said Yoo.
“KAC we will work with other residents around the city who feel this process was a façade. Asking for public testimony was just for show, unfortunately there are those who are not willing to listen to the will of the people.”
Yoo accused Council President Herb Wesson, who represents the 10th Council District, of wielding his influence on the redistricting process. In the new map, Koreatown is split between Wesson’s district and Councilmember Eric Garcetti. Wesson also picked up Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Vista and part of Leimert Park, neighborhoods that are now in the 8th Council District, which is represented by Bernard Parks.
“It’s fair to say that the council president wields the most influence. If you put a nice spin, he’s really fond of Koreatown,” said Yoo.
Speaking on Friday, 9th District Councilmember Jan Perry, said she has spoken with several attorneys who are experts in reapportionment issues and is exploring her legal options, including filing a lawsuit.
“In terms of running on a parallel track with the Korean American community, we are very much on the same page,” Perry said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo. “Mr. Parks and I will continue our battle to put our districts back together. We will also explore every available legal option. I appreciate very much that the Little Tokyo community has stood together as one, I think it has been not only a testament of the strength of this community but also a very strategic stand to take because it will engage people at a much higher level when it comes to council.”
On Wednesday, Commissioner David Roberti, who was appointed by Councilmember Paul Koretz, voted with the majority to approve the map, but acknowledged guilty feelings over how Koreatown was handled in the new map. At public hearings held during the redistricting process, Koreatown residents have been vocal in their desire to be unified in Council District 13. During the Wednesday session, over 30 representatives from Koreatown spoke during the public comment period.
“I am terribly guilt ridden over the concerns of the Korean community, they did not win here. And 10 years ago, they didn’t win either and I was on that commission as well,” said Roberti. “The problem is not that they’re not heard, because they are heard. The problem is that this is a political process. And they haven’t developed that weight yet and maybe there’s got to be another way for them to develop that weight.”
Commissioner Robert Kadota, an appointee of Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, said he supported the map, but was critical of the treatment of Koreatown, as well as the 8th and 9th districts. A majority of Westchester was put back into Rosendahl’s district in the wake of protests by residents in the Westside district, in a revision of the map released on Feb. 15.
“There was too much win-lose, I don’t think we served Koreatown well, I don’t think we served the API community well, I don’t think we served new immigrant populations well or ESL populations as well as we could,” Kadota observed. “I don’t think we were as visionary or caring of all parts of the city. Council District 8 and Council District 9, I scratch my head and try to figure out what we did there and where we leave them.”
On the other hand, Antonio Sanchez, an appointee of Councilmember Jose Huizar, said he was pleased with the map. Huizar, who represents the 14th Council District, picked up most of downtown in the newly drawn map, including Little Tokyo.
“I’m expecting some people to be very happy with us, I’m expecting some folks to be very angry with us. I know we kept a lot of neighborhood councils whole, I know we kept a lot of communities whole. I’m excited to see a united downtown,” said Sanchez.
David Roberts, an appointee of Perry, said he could not vote to support the map, and called the process dysfunctional.
“We lost credibility with the public, which is sad, really sad. You may see with this effort, the last commission composed in this nature,” said Roberts. “I think there’s going to be a strong push for redistricting reform similar to what we’ve seen at the state level. That you do have an independent commission, a commission that does not reflect political interests and representatives on the commission pushing political agendas.”
During public comments, Chris Komai, public information officer of the Japanese American National Museum, urged the Redistricting Commission keep Little Tokyo in the 9th district. The Little Tokyo Community Council created a redistricting committee and took the position that the Japanese American neighborhood be kept intact and in the 9th district.
“Our community was rebuilt from nothing except their determination to succeed. But self determination has been elusive for us. When we ask for things from the city to help us, it doesn’t always listen to us,” said Komai. “I’m very worried that when we get severed from our past we will not know what has brought us to this point. So please keep Little Tokyo in the 9th, keep the 9th together and while you’re at it, unify Koreatown.”
Several commission members explored the option of attaching a minority report to the final report delivered to the City Council. The commission will meet one final time at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the Van Nuys City Hall, 14410 Sylvan St., Second Floor, Van Nuys.
Jacquelyn “Jackie’ Dupont-Walker, an appointee of Councilmember Garcetti, said the process left her saddened, though she maintained that the commission did a credible job.
“I’m saddened for Skid Row, I’m saddened for Little Tokyo, I’m saddened for Adams Normandie, Baldwin Hills. I happen to live in a neighborhood that did not come under attack this time, but I know this is not good,” said Dupont-Walker.
Arturo Vargas, appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged that the process has been difficult and the finished product is imperfect.
“I support this map, I think there are some things that we’ve done that have resolved some issues in the city, some are not resolved in the city and will be taken on by future commission or perhaps the city council will take on,” said Vargas.