An Affront to History and Community

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - This is one of two guest opinions on the proposed new council boundaries for Downtown. José Huizar's piece is here.

Every 10 years, the City of Los Angeles goes through the process of redrawing district lines as a result of the U.S. Census. It is a process that on the surface seems simple — make slight shifts to address population change, keep communities of interest together, and ensure that the will of the people is heard. Unfortunately, what happens, time and time again, is a power grab which has very little to do with the people of Los Angeles.

Sadly, this is what has happened, and Downtown Los Angeles has become the innocent bystander.

The two legal concerns in redistricting are population imbalance and the Voting Rights Act. Compliance can be easily achieved without tearing Council District Nine apart. The central question for this redistricting is whether Downtown should remain in District Nine. I firmly believe that it should and it must for reasons having to do with maintaining communities of interest and the relationships that have grown over the years. 

First, and foremost, the census numbers do not merit a dramatic shift in the Ninth District’s lines. According to the latest census, District Nine only exceeds the ideal district size by about 1.9% of the total population (approximately 8,000 residents). This means that, while a shift in boundaries may occur, the data supports only minor changes.

In fact, instead of severing Downtown from South Los Angeles, minor changes to the map could make Downtown whole in the Ninth District, reversing decades of gerrymandering that has been a result of political interests that have taken precedent over the pragmatic process of drawing district lines. If the intent is to unite Downtown into one district, why have key portions of Downtown — places like L.A. Live and the Figueroa Corridor — been left out of the equation?

Second, the process must respect the will of the people and the historical foundation by which alliances and partnerships are built. For well over half a century, Downtown Los Angeles has called the Ninth District home; currently, it represents three-fourths of Downtown’s population. What the Redistricting Commission proposed for Council District Nine in the recent draft maps disregards this legacy and the historic, cultural and economic realities of this important district. 

Downtown Los Angeles has enjoyed unprecedented growth in the past decade. It has seen $15 billion in private investment with 90,000 jobs created. Business and nonprofit communities have come together to address homelessness and worked with affordable housing developers to create thousands of units of new housing. Downtown has become a great source of pride and is the economic trendsetter for the city of Los Angeles.

This has not happened in a vacuum. Instead, this has been the result of dynamic partnerships — connections made between the Civic Center, Little Tokyo, Central City East, the Historic Core, the Financial District, South Park and the Figueroa Corridor. All of these communities have historically worked together to bring about change and to advance an agenda that has assisted retailers, investors and residents across the economic spectrum. 

The Ninth District is the bridge that links the communities of Downtown with southern portions of Los Angeles — an area rich with economic, cultural and racial diversity. In fact, the diversity of this district drives this part of the city forward, and it is diversity that is at risk in this redistricting. The current configuration promotes the best opportunities for growth, higher density living, and a public-transit oriented future that will improve Downtown and its adjacent communities in the southern part of the district. 

Separating the two major partners in the continued vitality of this area is wrong-headed and ill-considered. Severing Downtown from South Los Angeles will have the effect of creating the poorest council district in the city and isolating Downtown neighborhoods from their existing partnerships. A prime example is the Figueroa Corridor, which has experienced great investment due to the synergy between Downtown and South Los Angeles. We have seen the results of this partnership push investment along the corridor through the introduction of BYD, a Chinese electric car company, and a new Fiat dealership. This kind of synergy has made the Ninth District a great success story.

I am faced with term limits, and as such I am asked why I care about redistricting. I care deeply about the future of the people I represent. There is no guarantee that any elected official will serve a full term in office. Many leave before their council term ends to achieve higher office. 

I have faith in the people of the Ninth District and their ability to elect a candidate who represent their interests. It is their time to do so; they will and should have high expectations for the person whom they elect. They have endured decades of waiting on the vision set forth by Mayor Tom Bradley that investment and development in Downtown Los Angeles should yield benefits for all. That time has come. Don’t cut the momentum short.  

Jan Perry represents the Ninth District on the Los Angeles City Council.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2011