City Council OKs voting maps; Koreatown activists threaten to sue
The Los Angeles City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a new set of boundaries for its 15 voting districts, setting the stage for a legal battle with Koreatown activists and possibly two of its own members.
On a 12 to 2 vote, the council cast the first of two votes needed to establish the new maps, despite objections of council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks, who alleged that last-minute changes had been made to the boundaries without proper council review. Deputy City Atty. Harit Trivedi disputed that assertion, saying city engineers created a map in line with instructions given by the council three months ago.
Trivedi told council members that the new maps are “legally defensible.” Nevertheless, the council voted 14 to 0 to pay an outside law firm, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, up to $295,000 to defend the city if someone sues.
A legal challenge could “impact the 2013 elections, which is why we need outside counsel on board and ready to go,” Trivedi told the council.
The once-a-decade redistricting process played out over the last 10 months, exposing bitter divisions among the council’s three African-American members -– Parks, Perry and Herb Wesson, the council’s president. The effort also revealed simmering political discontent in Koreatown, where some civic leaders said they want their community removed from Wesson’s district and moved into one where they had a greater chance of electing an Asian candidate.
“They’re playing reverse Robin Hood -– stealing from the poor and giving to the rich,” said Parks’ chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr.
Koreatown civic leaders have already tapped the law firms of Akin Gump and Bird Mirella, which have agreed to take on the case pro bono if the redistricting ordinance is approved. Hyongsoon Kim, an attorney with Akin Gump, said the boundaries were drawn “primarily for racial reasons, and that is not allowed under the federal Constitution.”
Wesson has disputed that assertion, saying through a spokesman that “the city has followed the law at every turn.”
“Race was never a predominant factor in our proceedings,” said Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson.
Chief Assistant City Atty. Pete Echeverria told council members that a legal challenge is “almost a certainty.”
A final vote on the maps is set for next week.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall