In ‘Historic’ Vote, LA City Council Places Independent Redistricting On 2024 Ballot

The L.A. City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to place a measure on the November 2024 ballot that could create an independent commission to redraw voting districts that reflect population changes in the city.

Right now, that responsibility rests with the City Council itself.

Calls for the creation of an independent commission emerged after secretly recorded audio was released last year that captured City Council members discussing ways to preserve their political power through the redistricting process. Their conversation included racist and derogatory comments and sparked widespread protests.

“This city was rocked,” Council President Paul Krekorian told reporters before the vote. “A lot has changed in the last year and we now have a group of council members who are far more focused on governance reform.”

He called the vote “historic.”

New proposal called ‘gold standard’

Two years ago, Krekorian and Councilmember Nithya Raman introduced a different proposal to create an independent commission but it failed.

“Maybe it took the bombshell that hit Los Angeles last year to really wake us up,” said Kathay Feng of Common Cause, who has long been an advocate of independent redistricting. She had high praise for the latest proposal, calling it a “gold standard” that builds on best practices from around the country.

Raman said the people of Los Angeles “have had cause to question their faith in their elected representatives,” referring to both the audio tapes scandal and to allegations of corruption involving five council members over as many years.

“One of the ways in which we must respond to that.. is actually by taking away some of our own power and giving it back to the people of Los Angeles,” Raman said.

Creating a new, independent panel would require an amendment to the city charter and, therefore, voter approval.

Fallout from City Hall tapes scandal

Much of the focus around the secret City Hall tapes was on racist and derogatory remarks made in 2021 by then-council president, Nury Martinez, who later provided an exclusive interview to LAist that is featured on the podcast Imperfect Paradise: Nury & The Secret Tapes.

At the time, redistricting was at the heart of a conversation among Martinez, councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and Ron Herrera, the powerful leader of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. The four were discussing how to draw council district boundaries in a way that would maintain their own power.

Martinez resigned from the council after the audio was released. Cedillo already had been voted out of office. Only De León remains on the council, despite calls for his resignation. He is running for reelection in the March primary.

The proposal the City Council considered Wednesday was crafted by Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform. Under that proposal, a 16-member panel — selected through a process overseen by the city’s Ethics Commission — would be responsible for redrawing district boundaries every 10 years.

Proposed commission criteria

The process calls for selecting eight members who represent the geographic diversity of the city. Those eight would then select eight other members based on various factors, including race and ethnicity; age (youth and seniors); and income and profession.

City elected officials, commissioners and lobbyists would be among those prohibited from serving.

The ad-hoc committee also has proposed allowing the commission to consider how to divvy up lucrative assets, like colleges and major business areas, in deciding boundaries.

“Other additional criteria may be considered when drawing district boundaries, including consideration of the community and cultural association with economic and cultural landmarks and resources,” the proposal states.

The commission would have to provide remote access to its meetings — a key demand of activists.

The backstory on redistricting

Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the federal government conducts its census. State and local governments use the new census data to redraw district lines in ways meant to reflect how local populations have changed.

California law requires cities and counties to engage communities in the process by holding public hearings and doing public outreach.

Independent redistricting commissions are already in place at the state level for redrawing Congressional and state legislature districts, and in L.A. County for supervisorial districts. Long Beach also uses an independent redistricting commission.

Later this week, the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform is expected to take up proposals to expand the size of the City Council from 15 members to as many as 31.

Council expansion was another reform demanded by activists in the wake of the audio leak.

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