The Los Angeles City Redistricting Commission has turned back the calendar.
Instead of recognizing natural boundaries and common community interests in redrawing council district borders, the members seem intent on creating a modern-day version of Yugoslavia.
I attended the latest round of redistricting hearings last night at Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City. Around 300 people turned out, some carrying signs or wearing t-shirts bearing messages suggesting support of community solidarity.
The hearing was delayed due to the late arrival of a few commission members. 160 speaker cards were submitted; I stayed through over half of the comments. By the time I left, only five speakers had commented in favor of the draft plan.
My primary concern was the division of my neighborhood of Valley Village between CD2 and CD4. A small slice of its western edge was arbitrarily and inexplicably thrown into the sprawling mass of CD4. Our board members and stakeholders emphasized the need to keep our compact community together, especially when the boundaries include well-defined physical barriers such as the 170 and 101 freeways and the Tujunga Wash. The whole of Valley Village is also covered under its own specific plan.
My own remarks took the issue further. I expressed a preference that the whole of Valley Village remain in CD2 and not be assigned to CD4 in the final map.
One might wonder why that should make a difference, assuming we were undivided.
The proposed footprint of CD4 is an ugly rash across what is as close to being the geographic center of the city as any district. As I told the commissioners, the boundaries make as much sense as the ones that created Yugoslavia after World War 1. The European powers somehow thought you could unite long-time cultural rivals into a cohesive nation-state that spanned the region from the Austrian border almost to Turkey. It took a dictator to hold the country together after the Second World War.
CD4 as defined by the Commission is not the Balkans, but the demographics and interests are as varied as you will find anywhere in the city. The district has a leg that extends well into the northwest Valley and the overall boundaries stretch through the Cahuenga Pass all the way to Silver Lake. It also has a gerrymandered “appendage” (as one person euphemistically described it last night) that dangles into Hollywood, an obvious accommodation to one or two city council members.
Although we are all Angelenos, residents of the city have always closely associated themselves with their local or regional communities of interests. That’s not going to change, and that’s a good thing. Local pride is healthy and adds benign quirkiness to the social strata in our sprawling metro area.
Diluted communities deliver muted messages to City Hall. Public safety and environmental concerns in particular vary widely from one part of the city to another. It is important that our elected officials receive clear, unified advice from the residents and focus on those concerns. It’s tough enough for city council members to devote time to broad issues such as the budget. Trying to balance too many competing and unique needs within their own districts will only mean less quality time to address grassroots issues.
So now the Commission has to amend the maps.
Unfortunately, the current draft has a poison pill – CD4.
The district’s massive landscape is adjacent to eight others. Any change to CD4 will impact almost all of the eight, creating a ripple effect throughout the city. The redistricting process may have to go back to square one.
This whole controversy could have been avoided if the elected officials had put aside selfish interests in selecting commission members, or had emphasized to them the importance of respecting neighborhood council boundaries.
It was another example of City Hall failing to accept neighborhood councils as integral components in the life of Los Angeles.