Only a year ago, Nithya Raman was taking a victory lap after accomplishing that rarest of feats in Los Angeles, unseating an incumbent at City Hall. The 40-year-old urban planner, a newcomer to city politics, won with a platform of unabashedly progressive values that included a plan to forgive rents in L.A. and to reduce funding to the police budget.
Today, a commission busy redrawing the boundaries of Los Angeles City Council districts is threatening to make most of Raman’s hard-won Fourth District disappear.
At issue is a proposal that would lop off a whopping 73 percent of Raman’s current district in central Los Angeles. Goodbye, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Larchmont, Koreatown, Mid-City, Miracle Mile, and most of Hollywood; hello, northern San Fernando Valley and rural Shadow Hills!
Raman, who was a tenant advocate before she was an elected official, would stand to lose a large chunk of her base made up of low-income L.A. renters of diverse backgrounds. And the suburban homeowners of the San Fernando Valley eyed as possible replacements do not necessarily cotton to progressive activism.
“This map is effectively erasing the results of an election and denying Angelenos the representation that they voted for less than a year ago,” says Stella Stahl, communications director for the freshman council member. “It really does feel like an invalidation of an election.”
The group of political appointees who make up the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission evidently disagree. The redistricting process, which occurs once every decade when the U.S. census is completed, is known to create safe seats for politicians already in power. But insiders speculate that this time the commission is trying to create a safe seat for—get this—a future council progressive, not Raman but someone yet to be elected to council.
The current proposal which has the most votes, known as Draft Map K2, vouchsafes a seat for a progressive in the well-to-do District 5, which includes Bel Air, Westwood, and Sherman Oaks. The current representative of District 5, Paul Koretz, is termed out next year, and the list of hopefuls aspiring to succeed him includes Katy Young Yaroslavsky, Sam Yebri, and Jeff Ebenstein
Two City Hall sources reached separately pointed the accusatory finger at Richard Katz, a former majority leader for the Democratic party in Sacramento appointed to the L.A. redistricting commission by Councilman Bob Blumenfield.
(“I have no designs on a seat,” Katz tells Los Angeles in response. “The K-2 map that came out of the commission was designed by commission staff based on the principle that Mulholland should be a hard boundary in the valley, that the district shouldn’t go over the hill. And that the valley represents 5.7 city council seats, and has never realized that. So the sixth seat would be the seat that goes in the East San Fernando Valley and into Hollywood. Those are the principles the valley group laid out, and that’s the maps that the staff drew along with input from everybody else. I am agnostic in terms of who runs for what and where they run. Our job is not to protect candidates or consider candidates, our job is to implement the Voting Rights Act and to adhere to the guidelines set down by the city in the Voting Rights Act.”)
Commission staffers told the L.A. Times that their proposed boundaries for Raman’s district make sense — “creating an area focused on the entertainment industry.” Ground Game LA, a nonprofit that is supported Raman’s campaign last year, tweeted that the proposed remapping of CD4 was “gerrymandering” and an act of “deceiving the public & carrying out a covert attempt tp rig the lines to favor incumbents.”
Last week, the neighborhood news blog Larchmont Buzz reported that the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, a formidable stakeholder in the area, was pushing for a map that would include the full Greater Wilshire area and communities of interest to the west in CD5 instead of CD4, where it has been for many times. The reason, the Buzz quotes HPHOA president Cindy Chvatal-Keane as saying, was that the proposed area that include shared characteristics that include single family zoning and Jewish heritage.
Meanwhile, Map L, an alternative proposal that is being supported by Raman, would keep much of the present CD4 intact and unite all of Koreatown in one district, which the 40-year-old councilwoman welcomes.
One insider put it in social darwinistic terms suitable for the once-in-a-decade process: “Nithya lacks in relationships, and she’s not someone her colleagues are afraid of.”
Council District 4 is not the only area where the extreme makeovers proposed for some districts have drawn complaints. Under the draft map, Councilman Paul Krekorian’s district based in the East Valley would be moved into neighborhoods he does not currently represent, the Times reports.
The redistricting commission will take its next step toward recommending a draft map of new council district boundaries at its next meeting on September 30.
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