RAFU NEWS AND WIRE SERVICE
With Koreatown vowing to file a lawsuit, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-2 to approve a controversial district map that redraws the 15 L.A. council districts, and removes Little Tokyo and much of downtown from the 9th District.
The vote gives the city attorney authority to draft an ordinance that would legally establish the new districts until after the next census in 2020.
Grace Yoo, executive director of the Korean American Coalition (KAC), said that Koreatown has no recourse but to file a lawsuit to challenge the new district maps.
During the redistricting process, hundreds of Koreatown representatives attended public meetings and asked that the district be placed wholly into the 13th Council District, represented by Councilmember Eric Garcetti. In the approved map, Koreatown is split between the 10th Council District, represented by Council President Herb Wesson, and the 13th.
“Creating a map is not pretty, but a lawsuit will be far worse. And that’s the only place you’re leaving us. And you think our grounds are weak. Talk to your attorney. Consider it because we are strong and this lawsuit is coming,” said Yoo.
During a press conference held prior to the vote, Hanna Yoon, president of the Korean American Democratic Coalition, said they met last Thursday with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and urged him to veto the map.
“He was extremely reluctant to do so because he has only used his veto power six or seven times in his entire career as mayor, and also if he does, he gives a lot of advance notice,” said Yoon.
KAC has cited former Mayor Tom Bradley’s veto of the redistricting map in 1991, which allowed for the creation of the 13th district and in turn, the election of Mike Woo, the sole Asian American to serve on the Los Angeles City Council.
“As far as Koreatown’s voices and demands, they have been ignored. In fact, the CLA (chief legislative analyst) report actually gives more of Koreatown to CD 10, including southern part of Olympic and eastern part of Vermont,” said Yoon.
During public comments, Helen Kim, a member of the Redistricting Commission, said that the process was fatally flawed. She was one of four members who drafted a minority report opposing the new map.
“The initial draft map was drawn behind closed doors in secret, in violation of the Brown Act, in violation of the charter itself, which requires public input throughout the redistricting process,” said Kim. “In those closed-door meetings, race was the sole or predominant factor in drawing several of the districts, including but not limited to CD 10. In CD 10 the black registered voters was raised from 43 percent to over 51 percent, a seven percent increase at a time when the African American population has decreased.”
Deputy City Attorney Havit Trevedi, however, told the council the commission’s map and process were legally defensible.
“The Supreme Court has held that race can be a factor, just not the sole or predominant factor (in redistricting),” Trevedi said.
Councilmembers Bernard Parks and Jan Perry cast the lone dissenting votes as City Hall was packed with hundreds of people, the majority opposing the changes to Districts 8 and 9. Critics say the new map takes away the economic engines in the two districts and will further impoverish one of the city’s poorest areas.
“Now I have a district where the average income is $16,000 to $24,000 a year, because now there is no middle class connected to the 9th District,” Perry said after the vote.
Perry and Parks also lost their bid to delay the final vote on the redistricting map and, in the final vote, were denied their joint request to place USC back into the 8th District after it was placed in the 9th in the new district map.
During a rare personal exchange between council members on the floor of the council chamber, Perry publicly apologized to Wesson, saying she wished she could take back “blunt” statements she made to him during a discussion last year about his election to the council presidency.
“If I had known then what I know now, I would have kept my mouth shut so that my district would not have been sacrificed,” Perry said. “I feel your wrath. I feel your power. I’m the only woman on the City Council now. I’m one woman out of 14 men. This is a lesson in the wise use of power.
“And I want to tell you publicly, Mr. President, I regret not voting for you, and I am sorry. And I think as a woman, I’m completely comfortable saying that, because I’m fighting for something bigger than the both of us,” Perry went on.
Perry and Parks missed a council meeting last fall when Wesson was elected to be the body’s president.
After the vote, Wesson denied that he orchestrated the redistricting process or that it was punishment for not supporting his presidency.
“To suggest that one person, me, could influence a 21-member commission and a 15-member council, in my view is kind of insulting to these … independent thinkers,” Wesson said.
Frances Hashimoto, owner of Mikawaya, noted that her family’s business has operated in Little Tokyo for 102 years.
“In all that time, the 9th district has been a diverse community but we have all worked together to make it, improve it. And now that we are at a point where we’re successful, this map is actually making us apart,” said Hashimoto
Pat Sanders, a resident of Parks’ district, told the council the boundaries will “negatively impact the African American community, socially, economically and politically.”
She said the maps also directly disrespected the two black council members.
“It really amounts to slapping them upside the head and taking everything from them,” Sanders said.
Rev. Mark Nakagawa, chair of the Nisei Week Foundation, said the public had spoken during the redistricting process and the message was clear.
“This is my fourth hearing and it is clear to me that all across the city that the consensus is the people of L.A. are against the recommendations of the commission. Our council districts may not be perfect, but they work,” said Nakagawa.
State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), who represents much of South Los Angeles, was one of the few who gave public testimony in favor of the boundaries.
“These adjustments maintain the letter and spirit of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” he told the council. “These lines will work well for South Los Angeles in that we retain the opportunity to maximize our voice electorally and in the L.A. city government.”