Redistribution should be respected as a building block of our democracy, as a core element of fair representation.
Finally, voting begins with the districts, which are redrawn every 10 years. Arriving on new district lines is a tedious, arduous, and often controversial endeavor that must follow census data and voting laws.
That alone should be enough to justify respect for the effort.
But instead, the Los Angeles City Council’s Redistribution Commission in 2021 has spent the last few weeks of our work under fire; The final map we proposed was delegitimized by members of the city council last week (before the council even got the final report), followed by the announcement of a plan to hand the redrawing to an ad hoc committee of councilors.
As the redistribution rules apply in Los Angeles, the Commission is acting in an advisory capacity; The city council has the final say on the map, but claiming LA should start from scratch is not a way of addressing the work of the commission or the city’s need for a fair trial.
All of these maneuvers explain why it is time for a genuinely independent commission to take responsibility for redistribution. As chairman of the 2021 Redistribution Commission, I know that the process can work – if it is allowed to work. And I’ve seen attempts to thwart the process. California Common Cause, a pro-democracy organization, rightly calls for redistribution independent of the city council, and anyone who wants to keep fair representation in Los Angeles should demand the same.
In some ways, the attacks on the Commission’s independence in 2021 were predictable, but the original 21 commissioners tried hard to get the process going by advocating for independence.
From the very beginning, we have set core values and guiding principles, including transparency and integrity. The commission approved a resolution calling on the city council to ban ex parte communications so that elected officials and their staff could not disrupt or influence the work of the commission by communicating with their members outside of public meetings. The commissioners are appointed by the councilors, but they are supposed to act on behalf of the city, not the council. The city council refused to react to this decision and let him sit.
There should have been outrage and protest over the Council’s refusal to ban its interference; instead there was a deafening silence that was a harbinger of anger.
The Commission has pushed ahead with its work, which has faced unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic and delays in publishing census data. We have worked in innovative ways, hired community-based organizations to help educate and involve residents in the process, and relied on technology for meetings and hearings. And we reported and published ex parte releases at each meeting.
The Commission’s final card is the culmination of a year of hard work. It represents many, many hours of public hearings and meetings. Around 15,000 residents took part – more than in the 2011 resettlement – and more than 380 cards were submitted by the public and used by our staff as the basis for our final card. The final map also reflects the Commission’s careful review of census data and civil rights compliance.
No card is perfect, and we’re not claiming it is perfect, but it does serve important purposes. After all, on the commission’s map, Koreatown is united in one district; five parishes are entirely in the San Fernando Valley with a Valley Bridge majority district; Thai Town, Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown and various Jewish quarters will be preserved. The civil rights of blacks and Latinos are protected. Far fewer neighborhood councils are divided.
The Commission’s card has satisfied many, disappointed some and angry others. In a city with more than 3 million inhabitants, it couldn’t be otherwise.
The previous silence on the issue of ex parte communications opened the door to political interference, including the sudden appearance of cards of dubious origin and apostasy at the eleventh hour, and council members exchanging commissioners for the card in their favor. Finally, a statement by some members of the Council to abolish the Commission’s card altogether.
A simple truth is lost in battle: our democracy does not promise loyalty to incumbents or their re-election, and neither should our redistribution process. The preservation of the old parish lines and the protection of the parish council members is not the purpose of the redistribution. Fair representation is.
If the Council draws up a new map through the ad hoc committee, I wonder how it will proceed. Will 15,000 Angelenos give testimony and input? Are the new boundaries drawn and publicly discussed for everyone to see? Will there be a discussion of the Voting Law mandates and census data?
And how will this process be independent?
Our city and our democracy deserve answers.
Fred Ali is the Chair of the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission 2021 and a longtime Los Angeles nonprofit and philanthropic leader.