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Approval of new L.A. council districts brings threat of lawsuits

March 16, 2012 |  4:33 pm

The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to redraw the boundaries for its 15 districts, disregarding lawsuit threats that had been lodged by two council members and a handful of Korean American civic groups.

Against a surreal backdrop of St. Patrick's Day bagpipers and a Persian New Year’s buffet, council members took sweeping action to realign political territory across the city, including cutting all but a sliver of downtown out of the district now represented by Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Lawmakers also sliced three heavily African American neighborhoods out of the district represented by Councilman Bernard C. Parks and turned them over to council President Herb Wesson.

Friday’s vote offered yet another sign of the growing political clout of Wesson, a former Assembly speaker whose district gained significant new territory in Koreatown and South Los Angeles.

The remapping isolated Parks and Perry politically by ensuring that the vast majority of council members were happy with the new boundaries.

“Nothing is perfect,” Wesson said after the vote. “But 13 members were comfortable with it.”

Perry acknowledged Wesson’s influence, saying that she would have voted for him to become president four months ago if it would have meant keeping downtown in her district. She and Parks missed that vote in November.

She said she regretted an exchange she had with Wesson on the topic in the weeks leading up to the vote. “Had I known then what I know now, I would have kept my mouth shut so that my district would not be sacrificed,” she told her colleagues.

[Updated at 5:01 p.m.: Wesson said later that the new maps have nothing to do with Perry’s refusal to vote for him for council president. “I have thick skin. I mean, this stuff rolls off my back like water on a duck. I don’t hold grudges,” he said.]

Backers of the new map said it would unify the vast majority of downtown into a single district, better serving its businesses and residents. Opponents, including Parks and Perry, warned that it would economically wound the low-income blacks and Latino residents in South Los Angeles who rely on the economic clout of downtown for help.

“To take away this economic engine from this district, to make it even poorer than it is, is unconscionable, unbelievable and I believe ungodly,” said the Rev. Wendell M. Oldham, Jr., one of several African American pastors who spoke against the plan.

Others offered even sharper language. Former Mayor "Tom Bradley would be turning over in his grave if he knew that this was on the table,” said Albert Nicholas, a pastor from Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.

The council moved to return all of Westchester to the 11th District represented by Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

But members rebuffed requests from Asian American activists who wanted Koreatown to be moved into a district with Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown. Those activists argued that the Asian vote had been diluted, even though its population had increased since 2000.

“I’m very disappointed that the City Council did not take into account our numerous objections,” said attorney Helen Kim, who served on the city’s 21-member Redistricting Commission. “Unfortunately, we’ll have to resort to legal remedies to rectify the situation.”

Parks and Perry also have threatened to sue, saying race was improperly used in the map-making. The city’s legal team said race was properly a factor in the process but not the dominant one.

The council instructed the city lawyers to draft the ordinance that puts the new boundary lines into place. A final vote on the ordinance is expected in May.


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