L.A. Voters Challenge City Gerrymandering

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles gerrymandered City Council districts to protect incumbents and to “make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years,” six voters claim in court.
     Residents of City Council Districts 8, 9 and 10 sued the City of Los Angeles in Federal Court, alleging violations of the City Charter, the California Constitution and the 14th Amendment.
     Lead plaintiff Stanley Haveriland wants the city enjoined from holding elections under its latest redistricting ordinance.
     He also seeks new districts, and a referendum on whether the redistricting ordinance should be overturned as unconstitutional.
     “(B)y enacting the redistricting ordinance, the city redrew city council district (‘CD’) 10 for the explicit purpose of increasing the percentage of registered African-American voters in CD 10,” the complaint states. “Indeed, an appointee of the redistricting commission that drew the new district boundaries acknowledged, both orally and in writing, that his goal in redrawing the boundaries of CD 10 was to ‘protect the historical African American incumbents in this district [CD 10] by increasing the black voter registration percentage and CVAP #s [citizen voting age population] accordingly,” the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)
     City Council President and District 10 Councilman Herb Wesson stated publicly that district maps were redrawn to “‘make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years,'” according to the complaint.
     The redistricting took some African-American neighborhoods out of District 8 and put them into District 10.
     The city also “artificially split” Koreatown into two districts, 10 and 13, and redrew District 9 to increase the Latino vote by turning it into a “majority-minority” district, according to the complaint.
     Five Koreatown residents sued the city in August 2012, for its redistricting of that neighborhood.
     The plaintiffs claim the gerrymandering was done “predominantly on the basis of race, without any compelling legal justification,” splitting traditional communities and neighborhoods.
     Though a redistricting commission held public hearings in late 2011, public comments were “passively received,” and the actual line-drawing was done behind closed doors, the plaintiffs say.
     “(T)he City Charter specifically requires that the redistricting commission seek public input ‘throughout’ the line-drawing process. Nonetheless, the redistricting commission chose to draw the lines for each of the new districts entirely in private,” the complaint states.
     It claims the city split the redistricting commission into “ad hoc committees and dispute resolution committees” to avoid public oversight.
     An alternative map would have kept Koreatown intact but was “intentionally suppressed” by the city, the plaintiffs say.
     “In approving the final commission map, the redistricting commission also ignored numerous traditional redistricting criteria in drawing CD 10. The redistricting commission exempted CD 10 from its own stated desire to keep neighborhoods and communities intact. It created a district that was not contiguous and compact; more than one media commentator referred to the district’s appearance as that of a ‘fat turkey.’ And it severely underpopulated CD 8; in a single swoop CD 8 went from one of the most populous districts in Los Angeles to one of the least populous districts,” the complaint states.
     The City Council approved the ordinance in March 2012, then did not vote for another three months, the complaint states.
     It claims: “(T)he City Council intentionally delayed the development of the metes and bounds and the vote on the redistricting ordinance in order to reduce the likelihood that plaintiffs, and other parties aggrieved by the constitutional and statutory violations resulting from the redistricting ordinance, would be able to obtain timely judicial relief before the next City Council elections.”
     Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approved the ordinance in June, and it was published in July, says the lawsuit.
     “The city has diluted and negatively impacted the voting power of African-American residents in CD 8 by unnecessarily, unlawfully, and unconstitutionally removing certain key and historically African-American neighborhoods from CD 8, and placing them into neighboring CD 10 for the explicit purpose of protecting historical African-American incumbents in CD 10 by increasing the number of registered African-American voters in CD 10. Additionally, in redrawing the boundaries of CD 9 for predominantly racial reasons, the city created a fifth Latino CVAP [citizen voting age population] majority-minority district without any evidence, analysis, or consideration of racially polarized voting in the city, and did so despite an increase in the number of Latinos elected to municipal office between 2001 and 2011,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Leo James Terrell of Beverly Hills.
     The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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