Herb Wesson has been accused by many of manipulating the City Council redistricting process.
Allow me to say a few words about that before moving on to the main subject of this post.
City Council President Wesson denied participating in any nefarious, behind the scenes deals regarding the maps ultimately approved by the City Council.
The new boundaries resulted in significant realignments of the districts represented by Bernard Parks and Jan Perry that were adverse to the incumbents. These changes would not have been noteworthy, except that Parks and Perry just happened to be the only council members who opposed Wesson’s selection as Council President.
Throwing salt on the wounds, Wesson removed the two from their powerful committees.
Wesson’s appointment of Andrew Westhall, his former Assistant Chief Deputy, as the head of the Redistricting Commission, created intrigue among the activist community. Many saw Westhall as Wesson’s tool.
Westhall’s presence probably benefitted Toluca Lake’s bolt from the proposed boundaries of the Valley’s CD2. He is the President of the Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council .
Taken as a whole, these instances pushed the envelope of coincidence to the bursting point….and perhaps ripped it open.
As bad as these machinations appear to be, the redistricting process reaffirmed an uglier, longstanding practice of Los Angeles politics – representative Balkanization.
Whites and Latinos comprise about half the population. There is a degree of overlap between the two groups in the statistics, but neither represents a majority of the total population. Asians and Blacks account for around 10% each.
Regardless of the guidelines contained in the Voting Rights Act covering the consideration of race in the configuration of political boundaries, the relentlessness with which the Commission pursued the creation of districts dominated by racial or ethnic segments is an embarrassment.
While so many national, state and local leaders tout diversity as a stabilizing influence on the country, the reality at the local level is quite the opposite. Our City Council, in particular, preaches inclusion, but practices exclusion.
By focusing on safe seats for specific races or ethnic groups, not to mention pockets within other districts for religious sects, our City Council is encouraging divisiveness. At that, the Redistricting Commission and Council were not fair – Asians did not rate treatment comparable to the other groups. Maybe they do not contribute enough cash; if they do, they are certainly being shortchanged.
Imagine how the residents of other nations would react if they followed the news of LA’s redistricting process?
They would label us hypocrites, and rightfully so.
Lacking an ethnic or racial majority, Los Angeles could easily have defended against charges of stacking, whereby a group is concentrated to create an overwhelming majority in a single district, which would create a wasted vote in a jurisdiction with several seats; or cracking , which dilutes a minority by spreading its members over multiple districts in order to dilute their votes.
By following Neighborhood Council boundaries and natural or manmade barriers, instead of focusing so much on race and ethnicity, there would have been a few districts with a minority pool in excess of 50%, but many would have been comprised of super minorities in the range of 30% to 40% of those eligible to vote – also known as influence districts.
If a large (but less than a majority) group cannot elect a representative sympathetic to the needs of its members, voter apathy would be the culprit – not discrimination.
I do not think the purpose of the Voting Rights Act was to deal with apathy.