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Redistricting lawsuit follows approval of Los Angeles' new maps

The city of Los Angeles' redrawn map is headed for a legal challenge.
The city of Los Angeles' redrawn map is headed for a legal challenge. City of Los Angeles

A lawsuit that alleges the Los Angeles City Council favored one community over another when it redrew its district lines was inevitable given the challenges of creating new maps, a redistricting expert said today.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of five Koreatown residents alleges redistricting commissioners and city council members ignored the wishes of Asian-American advocacy groups when it split the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council into two districts. The plaintiffs, whose attorneys declined to make them available for interviews, want to toss the maps and have a court appointed master redraw the lines.

The plaintiffs also believe that Councilman Herb Wesson’s desire to keep the Tenth District as an African-American district outweighed the concerns of the Asian-American community.

According to legal papers:

The boundaries of CD10 can only be explained on the use of racial criteria, as evidenced by the irregular shape of the district, which ignores traditional redistricting principles including contiguity and compactness, keeping communities of interest intact, following the requests of community’s residents, avoiding overpopulation or underpopulation of districts and CD 10’s own history as a cross-racial coalition district.

“Lawsuits are almost the inevitable afterbirth of redistricting,” said Paul Mitchell, president of Redistricting Partners, which worked on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s redrawn lines.

The first priority of redistricting committees is protecting classes identified in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Mitchell said. The three tests for federal law are whether:

  1. A group is cohesive and votes as a block based on race
  2. The majority group opposite the minority group votes cohesively against the race
  3. The protected group has enough density to be 50 percent of a district

Groups that do not meet those requirements are referred to as communities of interest. Officials also have to work with the physical limitations of municipalities. In L.A.'s case, that means working up from San Pedro and in from LAX on the Westside and neighborhoods like Eagle Rock on the east.

“It is tough," Mitchell said. "Koreatown is in the physical middle of the city and when you’re drawing districts and you know one district is going to come up from San Pedro … where do all those districts end up meeting? They end up meeting in the middle.

“It’s very natural that the middle of the city would be divided into more areas.”

Councilman Herb Wesson declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. 

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