Committee finalizes plans for city redistricting panel

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES  — A City Council committee has unanimously approved a set of recommendations to create an Independent Redistricting Commission that would redraw the boundaries of council districts for future elections.

But the Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform left for another day plans to possibly expand the council into more, and smaller, districts.

The recommended City Charter amendment regarding the Independent Redistricting Commission that was approved earlier this month will be submitted to the full council next month and, if approved, would be placed on the November 2024 ballot for city voters to ultimately decide.

“We are going to give the voters exactly what they have rightfully demanded, a redistricting process in which the council will play no part,” Council President Paul Krekorian, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said in a statement.

“Not in selecting the commissioners, not in drawing the maps or reviewing the commission’s work. A process where the voters choose their representatives and not the other way around.”

Krekorian added, “We’re going to give council members and the public a month to review this proposal before we hear it in council, so everyone knows exactly what we’re voting on before this goes to the voters.”

The ad hoc committee was created in the wake of the City Hall scandal last year in which three council members, two of them now gone, were caught on a leaked recording discussing ways to redraw districts in their favor under the current redistricting system — which takes place every 10 years, but which also allows incumbent members to have ultimate say.

That leaked conversation also contained racist comments that led to former Council President Nury Martinez’s resignation, among other fallout.

The recommendations were a culmination of eight months of work by the ad hoc committee, done alongside the office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and including feedback from residents, community groups and organizations such as UnrigLA, the League of Women Voters, the L.A. Governance Reform Project, Our LA Coalition and Common Cause.

The committee also finalized its recommendations regarding several details of the Independent Redistricting Commission, including the composition of the group, selection process, certain considerations when drawing maps, ex parte communication and when maps would take effect.

Under the recommendations, the independent commission would be composed of 16 members and four alternates who will serve 10-year terms.

The commissioners would not be able to run for or work for specific elected offices or city positions for four years from the end of their service, or once they complete their 10-year term.

The committee also voted to recommend that any final redistricting maps drawn by the commission will be implemented immediately, at the end of the lengthy process.

The City Clerk’s Office would be responsible for the selection process of commissioners, and the Ethics Department would provide oversight.

All applications would be received, whittled down using certain criteria, followed by public input given online, and final applicants would be determined by the City Clerk’s Office, Ethics Department or some third party, determined by the previous two entities.

Once a total of eight commissioners is selected, they would then determine the remaining commissioners while considering, in part, geographical and diversity criteria. The selection of the four alternates would be randomly drawn.

Council President Pro Tem Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced a motion calling for a change in language from “may” to “should” regarding the commission considering cultural and economic assets as part of the map-drawing process.

But the motion failed to garner enough support and died on a 3-3 vote, with council members Nithya Raman, Krekorian and Traci Park voting against it.

“It’s not the goal of the process to distribute these equally, or in any way. It’s really about who gets elected and how we can have the greatest representation in the body,” Raman said.

Harris-Dawson had raised concerns over how cultural and economic assets can benefit districts, with certain districts such as his 8th District not having many.

Though the motion failed, the recommendation still allows the commission to consider cultural and economic assets in their work, but not as prominently.

The committee members determined the commission meetings would be broadcast in Spanish, as well. Additional language translations may be available upon request within a number of days.

Lastly, they approved a proposal to strictly prohibit communication between commissioners and council members, or and their staff.

While the committee celebrated its work, there was some concern about not finalizing recommendations for possible council expansion.

“I think there is a discussion to be had around whether both of these are a single ballot amendment, single ballot measure or multiple ballot measures, and we have time before we need to make that decision in June (2024), and I just don’t want to divorce these discussions from each other,” Raman said.

In terms of council expansion, the committee has been mulling over increasing council districts from the current 15 to between 23 and 29. In a city with nearly 4 million residents, each of the current council members represents about 260,000 people.

Raman said that expanding council is a smart thing to do, but some of her colleagues felt there needs to be a larger discussion around the implications of expanding the council.

“I want us to be more intentional,” Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez said. “I would love for us to be able to explain how we got this number. There’s still a lot of data and information missing for me to feel like I’m making the appropriate decision, especially for what the community is calling for.”

The ad hoc committee was looking to create two independent redistricting commissions — one for the City Council and one for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

John Wickham, an assistant chief legislative analyst, who has been leading the city’s efforts to supply recommendations for governance reform, has said that additional research needs to be done to evaluate options related to the LAUSD commission.

Krekorian called for the chief legislative analyst’s office to report on redistricting for LAUSD because, “We’ve carved that out of this process, which will be … very similar to this,” though there will be some “nuanced differences.”

The ad hoc committee — as well as calls for an independent commission — followed the leak, last year, of a recorded 2021 conversation involving Martinez, Councilman Kevin de León and now former Councilman Gil Cedillo, as well as L.A. County Federation of Labor head Ron Herrera.

That conversation — which contained racist remarks, and led to the resignation of Martinez and calls for de León to resign — took place in October 2021, when the city’s current, council-led redistricting commission was meeting.

The three council members in that leaked conversation were heard attempting to have maps drawn in their favor.