By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
At a packed public hearing with a few hundred people standing in the hallways of Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 8, downtown residents and business owners as well as elected officials gathered to express their strong opinions over a proposed redrawing of City Council districts.
“It is unnecessary, it is unreasonable, and as a matter of common sense and decency, it is harmful to the communities. I assure you that it’s just plain wrong,” said 9th District Councilwoman Jan Perry, raising her voice in front of the City Council Redistricting Commission and nearly 800 people. Since the Commission, a 21-member panel appointed by the city’s elected officials, released the draft map last month, outraged responses arose, especially from Council District Nine, which covers Downtown, South Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, and surrounding areas.
According to the draft boundaries, the Ninth District would keep the L.A. Live complex, the Convention Center, Staples Center, and South Park, but would lose most of Downtown, including Little Tokyo, to Council District 14, which covers Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. The Ninth District would be redrawn to include Watts instead.
“District Nine has historically been in Downtown L.A. for decades. Right now, Council District Nine represents three quarters of the entire Downtown population. It includes a large share of professional and high-salaried workers, and it represents a fifth of the total African American population in Skid Row and in South Los Angeles,” Perry said, earning furious applause. “We have worked hard to serve the needs of everyone in this district. It’s about these folks and the future.”
Perry urged the commission to go back to the drawing board to satisfy the needs of the people.
Perry wasn’t alone. Residents and representatives from Skid Row, South L.A., and Little Tokyo were outraged. Many pointed out that Council District Nine used to be one of the poorest areas that nobody wanted, but the community worked tirelessly with Perry to grow by building affordable housing, revitalizing parks, and beefing up security and law enforcement.
The Ninth District’s residents emphasized that it wouldn’t be fair to take the growing area away after all of their hard work. Tom Gilmore, a well-known Downtown L.A. developer, said to the commission, “District Nine is not up for sale.”
Bill Watanabe, chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council Task Force, along with Chris Aihara, Mark Nakagawa, and over 30 Little Tokyo residents, also objected to the draft map.
“It’s our understanding that the population of the city of Los Angeles has not changed that much. We feel that it would be important to try to keep the boundaries pretty much intact as they are,” said Watanabe. “Little Tokyo has been a part of the Ninth District, and the Ninth District has a certain identity. People call us the Great Ninth District.”
There were big supporters for the draft boundaries, too. They are from the 14th District, which stands to gain a huge portion of Downtown from the Ninth District. The 14th District councilmember, Jose Huizar, also gave a speech at the public hearing.
“You need to look at Downtown as a whole,” he said. “There is so much economic activity happening in Downtown L.A. That should serve the whole region, not just any particular district. Now Downtown is here to serve the entire area.”
Huizar, who worked at Rafu Shimpo and Kashu Mainichi as a deliveryman when he was younger, reminded the assembled crowd that East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights have long been a part of Downtown and the Arts District.
He justified the draft map geographically. Together, the First, 13th, and 14th combined must add up total population of 66,000. Because the First and the 13th are pushing into the 14th to expand, there is only one direction in which the14th can grow: into Downtown, he said. Huizar’s speech drew applause from residents of the 14th District and the Arts District.
Outside of Downtown area, residents of Koreatown and Westchester are not happy with the draft drawing, either.
Based on the draft map, Koreatown would be split into four different districts, the First, Fifth, Tenth, and 14th, and all of Westchester would be removed from Council District 11, which covers most of West L.A., to be a part of the Eighth District, which includes the Crenshaw and Jefferson area.
Michelle Park Steel, vice chair of the California State Board of Equalization, spoke on behalf of the Korean American community. “The redistricting process creates an opportunity to identify the needs and wants of the community. Your current draft map has failed to do so. I strongly urge the commission to unite the community in a single council district.”
Steel explained that Koreatown has been divided into multiple council districts for decades. “This must be stopped this year,” she implored.
The commission must submit the final map to the City Council by March 1, and the council must approve it by July 1. For more information, visit www.redistricting2011.lacity.org.