Now that new maps of Los Angeles City Council districts have been approved, the Council has turned its attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education (LAUSD) districts. The Council is inheriting a process that has been characterized in some quarters as mired in failure to consider public opinion and the opinions of some of the commissioners appointed to guide the process. The results of the process leave much of Northeast Los Angeles in an oddly shaped district that resembles the definition of gerrymandering, chop Atwater Village in two, leave questions as to whether Cypress Park was forgotten about and turn a high school attended by a number of Northeast L.A. students into a punted football.
New maps of School Board districts must be drawn every 10 years based on new census data. The process is led by an appointed commission, but the final approval of the maps lies with the City Council. Currently, the communities of Northeast Los Angeles are divided between two School Board Districts—District 2, currently represented by School Board President Mónica García, and District 5, currently represented by Bennett Kayser. Under mapping sent to the City Council by the commission, that division remains, but District 4, represented by Steve Zimmer, acquires much of Atwater Village.
On April 4, the proposed school board district maps got their first council vetting at a meeting of the City Council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.
Commissioner Jimmie Woods-Gray–a retired teacher, Democratic Party and UTLA activist and former member of the city Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, who was appointed to the redistricting effort by then-Council President Eric Garcetti—attended the council committee meeting to express what she termed “major concerns about the process.”
Woods-Gray said that the commissioners (four of whom were appointed by the Council President, four by the Mayor and one each by the seven School Board members) worked diligently to craft maps that followed all of the rules, including population distribution, district compactness and Voting Rights Act compliance.
After all of the commission’s work, at 2 a.m. on the day the commissioners were to cast a final vote, with no time left for controversy, the commission members received a new set of maps via email.
“Many people came to the hearings thinking that they were having input on the three [draft] maps that we showed them,” said Woods-Gray. “But when they got the information, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s not the map.’ I was very upset over that particular process.”
According to Woods-Gray, it was a move that “really tainted the process” and left the commissioners not fully understanding what they were voting on.
The LAUSD Redistricting Commission in February voted 14-1 to send the final maps Woods-Gray was referring to on to the City Council.
A week later, the commissioners met again, for a final meeting, to approve the official report that would accompany the maps to the City Council. The commissioners had received the draft of the report for their consideration only that afternoon, and a number of them had no opportunity to read it before the meeting. They read it during the public comment portion of the meeting and during a six minute break in the proceedings.
Three commissioners, including Woods-Gray, opted to file a minority report instead of signing on to the commission’s official report to the City Council.
From the Minority Report of the Redistricting Commission, submitted by Commissioners Jimmie Woods-Gray, Mark Lewis (appointed by School Board Member Kayser) and Dermot Givens (appointed by School Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte):
…There was a commissioner-created map that received district-wide support in the public hearings from a diverse array of communities…Democracy, compromise and logic were winning the day when a funny thing happened on the way to the City Hall.
At 2:00am on February 23, 2012 a brand new map…was submitted to Commissioners via email. Based on testimony at that night’s commission meeting, it seems that it was created out of whole-cloth by the mapmaker. While portrayed as a “rif” and a “tweak” on NALEO and MALDEF’s original submission, neither organization supports [the map] and considers it a completely different map.
This middle-of-the-night map was not seen by the public nor most of the Commissioners prior to that evening “adoption meeting.” Some however, were familiar enough with it to start requesting true “tweaks” and made amendments, having had access to street-by-street details others did not.
As a result, a map that received no public comment at the six outreach meetings and no timely review by commissioners will be submitted to the Los Angeles City Council Rules Committee as the Majority map.
Even though a clear majority voted yes on the commission report, there was at that time recognition among some of the commissioners that everything was not yet set in stone.
Before the commissioners’ vote on the report, Commission Chair Allan Mutchnik (an appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) said, “…about the map that was approved last week. This is not the end of the process with the redistricting of the LAUSD. This is, in a way, obviously — a milestone in that we’re going to deliver a map and a report to the City Council, and the City Council will have a process of then approving the map, … So I want to make that clear that this commission tonight is not changing the map that was approved, but there will be a process to the extent that there’s testimony to be had and further comments on the map that there will be a process for that.”
In February, Lindsey Horvath, another Garcetti appointee to the commission, had attempted to get her fellow commissioners to ask the City Council for a month’s extension on its work in order to seek more public input on draft maps. Horvath’s motion failed on a tied vote after Commissioner Michael Trujillo indicated that Council President Herb Wesson and the Mayor opposed such a move.
With no time left to carry on the dialogue, Horvath voted for the report, although noting for the record an abstention on appendices the commission hadn’t seen, but said, “I encourage the community to continue your participation in the process to make sure that your voices are heard.”
The commission’s Executive Director, Douglas Wance, told the Council Rules Committee members that commission staff and its hired mapping consultant began the process by looking at numbers. To achieve population parity, each of the seven districts would have to include 648,733 residents. Due to population shifts since the previous census, Districts 2 and 5, which include Northeast Los Angeles, were underpopulated by 60,000 people. Generally speaking, there was going to have to be a geographic decrease on the part of Westside districts and a geographic increase on the part of Eastside districts.
According to Wance, this shift was complicated by several factors, including a desire to maintain strong African American representation in District 1, a desire to maintain strong Latino representation in the Eastside districts and the wishes of Asian Pacific Islander community members to be consolidated in one district, which Wance said was achieved in District 2.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which had submitted their own proposed set of School Board District maps under which all of Northeast Los Angeles would have been united in District 2, and which had conducted outreach and community workshops on the mapping process, is not happy with the Redistricting Commission’s final product.
“As they currently stand, the plans approved and submitted for the LA City Council and the LA Unified School District fail to provide critical gains to the growing Latino electorate,” says a statement issued by MALDEF.
The configuration of District 5 is of special concern to MALDEF.
“Given the growth of the Latino student body and the critical importance of education issues, Latino opportunity to elect board members of choice is essential,” said MALDEF President Thomas Saenz. “Our proposal for LAUSD would have ensured the Latino community could elect three members of the board, an opportunity lost recently when a candidate prevailed without the support of the Latino community.”
“Additionally, we outlined other concerns we had in terms of the community outreach and the opportunities for public participation,” said Astrid Garcia of NALEO at the final Redistricting Commission meeting. “We felt that they were limited, given the rushed process. Specifically, the release of draft maps the day of a vote was specifically very challenging for many parents that were working and may not have had the opportunity to review and consider those maps. “
At that same meeting School Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte spoke to the matter of new maps surfacing at the tail end of the public process saying, “When I look at Bennett Kayser today, 17 or more schools have been taken away from him… This is not play business, this is serious billion dollar business, and we need to be serious about this…It’s unreal the number of schools that have been taken from one person”
“Was this process labeled as a democratic one or one to gain three voting districts for Latinos?” asked Poindexter LaMotte. “Please provide references when you answer this. What did this do to other ethnicities’ empowerment? Was there a need to appoint Commissioners if the final decision is not going to be yours–was made by some external force? Who has been the ultimate decision maker or makers for this Commission?”
“It’s really silly to even submit this to an intelligent constituent,” the School Board Member said of the report.
Kayser, who actually chaired the committee that wrote redistricting requirements during the City Charter reform of the late 1990s, is seeking specifically the reunification of northern parts of his district—including the Northeast community of Atwater Village, which is cut in two by a horizontal line in the district maps approved by the Redistricting Commission. He wants to return all of Atwater Village to District 5. And he wants to reunite it with the adjacent communities of Los Feliz and Griffith Park, much of which the Commission is moving into Zimmer’s District 4.
The Redistricting Commission Minority Report details a long list of alleged Brown Act issues, City Charter violations, technical problems and human error. One incident reported involves the Northeast neighborhood of Cypress Park.
“Following public meetings on February 20th and 21st, Paul Mitchell [Commission hired consultant Paul Mitchell of Sacramento-based Redistricting Partners] met with Commissioners to make final adjustments,” says the Minority Report. “On the 22nd, Commissioner Lewis met with the mapdrawer to adjust Cypress Park, which Mitchell stated Board President García didn’t want the area.’ That fix never made it into the final map and when questioned about it, Mitchell said, ‘he forgot’.”
Board President García is traveling, and could not be reached for comment. However, Cypress Park is currently in her district and remains in her district per the map sent to the City Council for approval.
When the new City Council District maps came before the Council recently, the City Attorney’s office found them to be legally defensible. In the case of the School Board maps, the City Attorney’s office reports “some concerns.” The concerns are primarily in regard to the shape of District 5. In the proposed map, that district includes much of Northeast Los Angeles, plus Silver Lake, Echo Park and East Hollywood. It also includes the Southeast cities of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Bell, Walnut Park, Cudahy and South Gate. The two segments of the district are joined together by a very narrow corridor—at places as narrow as one city block, according to the minority report–that makes several ninety-degree turns on its way from Larchmont to Historic South Central.
“Shapes of districts matter,” said City Attorney’s Office representative Harit Trivedi at the council committee meeting, referring to the fact that the City would have to be able to justify during any possible court challenge the rational for such a corridor.
One particular high school, Marshall, which is located in the greater Griffith Park area but serves a number of students from Northeast L.A., has been punted around a bit in the redistricting process. The school is currently joined with much of Northeast L.A. in School Board District 5, represented by Kayser. Under the proposed new set of maps, it is moved to District 4, represented by Zimmer. This move has the effect of separating the high school from both of the middle schools and most of the elementary schools that feed students into it.
When City Council President Herb Wesson asked why Marshall had been moved, Wance replied that it had been done at Zimmer’s request.
This prompted Zimmer’s Chief of Staff, Sharon Delugach, to come to the microphone to say that Zimmer “never made any such request.”
“We were surprised to find that we had both lost Taft High School and gained Marshall High School,” said Delugach. “We very much believe in keeping families of schools together…We did not ask for Marshall High School. We would not fight to keep Marshall High School in Board District 4.”
Not everyone is unhappy with the proposed School Board maps. Three members of InnerCity Struggle, an Eastside community and education reform organization, which has close ties to School Board President and Northeast Los Angeles representative Mónica García, attended the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee meeting to express satisfaction with what is before the committee.
InnerCity Struggle applauds the fact that, under the proposed map, eastside communities with similar interests and demographics, including Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, El Sereno, City Terrace and unincorporated East Los Angeles, are united.
The always controversial question as to what exactly constitutes “The Eastside” (and by extension, expresses whose interests are similar to whose) made a couple of appearances at the committee meeting. InnerCity Struggle organizer Hector Flores said that the proposed maps would mean “a new district that unites the Eastside…one representative making sure that all the Eastside is reflected.” This may come as a surprise to residents of Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Mount Washington and Glassell Park, who are slated to be in an entirely different district from the one referred to by Mr. Flores.
The Redistricting Commission, on the other hand, took a broad view of the term. When Councilmember Tom LaBonge asked Wance what the dividing line was between the Eastside and the Westside, Wance replied that in his terminology it was roughly Beverly Hills. LaBonge muttered that he was offended, and said that he thinks the Eastside is the historic neighborhoods east of the Los Angeles River.
The Council Rules Committee members seem inclined to respect the commissioners’ product—but with some tweaking.
Committee Chair and City Council President Herb Wesson said that he would “try to maintain the integrity of the commission’s work, with some possible alterations.”
“But I would hope nothing overly dramatic,” said Wesson.
At the Rules Committee hearing, LaBonge expressed a desire to connect high schools, in particular Marshall, with their feeder schools. Mitchell said that such a move could be made without disruption to the overall numbers.
Councilmember Mitch Englander brought up that, while the proposed maps comply with the law in that the seven districts each contain roughly the same number of residents, there are wide differences as to how many public school students there are per district.
Wance did not have that specific information, as redistricting law deals with the broader numbers of residents and of Citizen Voting Age Population. But a rough estimate on his part was that, while Districts 5 and 2 are only two of seven school board districts, they together represent 40-45% of the LAUSD students.
“The biggest stakeholders here are the children,” said Englander. “So I’d like to have that information at a minimum…I think it’s critically important to at least recognize and have in these documents.”
Englander joined LaBonge in seeking to respect the integrity of high schools and their feeders, and he asked for data on how many neighborhood councils are kept intact versus how many are divided. LaBonge asked for information on whether athletic leagues are kept intact.
NALEO and MALDEF do not consider the process to be over.
“I think there’s still opportunity for continued dialogue,” said NALEO’s Garcia at the final Redistricting Commission hearing, “and we look forward to working with the L.A. City Council on the redistricting process.”
“It is the hope of the Commissioners submitting this minority report,” say Woods-Gray, Lewis and Givens, “ that the Los Angeles City Council will rise above power politics and seek what is best for the children of this community, a coherent, civil rights supportive, Los Angeles Charter-aligned map that will allow parents and school communities the utmost impact on their students.”
There will be two public hearings regarding the maps this coming week, both of them held in the late afternoon. City Council members and Board of Education members have until April 12 to submit any changes they would like to see. The matter will then return to the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee and then go to the full City Council for a final vote. After maps are approved, the Bureau of Engineering will draw detailed lines and the City Attorney’s Office will craft an ordinance. The entire process is expected to be completed in June.
City Council Redistricting Update:
The drama over the redrawing of City Council District lines is on hiatus, as the maps approved by the Council are painstakingly fleshed out in detail by the Bureau of Engineering and are put in the form of an ordinance for their certain final approval soon. But there was a short rerun of the involved tension played out recently, at the end of a City Council meeting and before a pretty much empty Council Chamber.
Before the council mapping went before the Council, Councilmember Jan Perry, who ultimately cast one of only two council votes against the proposed maps, had introduced a motion regarding the processes employed in the mapping and in public outreach. Citing the fact that no public hearings on the maps were held in South Los Angeles or Koreatown, two areas of the City that had generated significant outcry, Perry had requested public hearing time for people in each district with reasonable notice. She had also asked for a comprehensive analysis of voting data to determine if and where racially polarized voting exists in Los Angeles (a study which she and Councilmember Bernard Parks have contended is necessary before race can be used as a criterion in the drawing of district lines), for a method of tracking public input about the mapping and for a set of mapping guidelines that would clearly spell out the goals of the process.
Council President Herb Wesson brought the matter to the Council after the Council’s vote on the maps; by that time it had become a moot issue. The Council decided after a few minutes discussion simply to file the matter away—but not before Perry was reduced to pretty much pleading with her colleagues just to kill her motion and get it over with, and not before Councilmember Richard Alarcón suddenly snapped at Perry that she was questioning his manhood.
Perry and Parks have made no secret of the fact that they are prepared to take the Council maps to the courts should the Mayor sign the maps that their colleagues on the Council approved.
2012 LAUSD Redistricting:
Monday April 9
Los Angeles City Hall
Wednesday April 11
Van Nuys City Hall
Friday April 20
Final Hearing in Rules Committee
Los Angeles City Hall
Friday April 20
Full City Council Consideration
Los Angeles City Hall