Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Redistricting

Redistricting: Watts new?

Maps-bWhat's the opposite of "I told you so"? Because whatever it is, I need to say it about the draft map proposals released Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission. Blogging on the recently concluded special election in Council District 15, I said there was just no way that Watts was ever going to be severed from the distant harbor.

But except for gaining or losing a few blocks at the far northern end, where Watts joins South Los Angeles and the central city, Council District 15 doesn't change. It can't, and it won't, because it has nowhere else to go. It's fenced in by the harbor on the south and the very strange shape of the city boundaries from there northward. Unless more territory is annexed to or detached from Los Angeles, this district will look pretty much the same in 50 years as it does today.

Never mind. The proposed map moves Watts out of the 15th and makes it part of a Council District 9, which traditionally takes in most of downtown but now would go only as far north as Olympic Boulevard.

Is that good or bad? It's different, and it could be good, although I'd be interested to know what Watts residents think. I suspect that many of them might like to finally be severed from San Pedro, the harbor community that always controls the election of the 15th District council member because it's where most of the money and most of the votes reside.

Every council member from that district, going back at least to World War II, has been a San Pedro resident. And it must be extraordinarily hard for the District 15 members not to promote the interests of their neighborhood and its very distinct demographic -- families with roots in fishing, shipping, loading, unloading and moving freight, largely white with a strong Italian, Croatian and Greek ethnic identity -- as opposed to Watts, with its distinct history and largely African American and Latino immigrant demographic, as well as environmental degradation, dense public housing problems and persistent gang crime.

Of course, not every community can have its own district. Communities must be joined with others that are like them -- or very unlike them. So would Watts now instead be pushed around by wealthy and gentrified downtown?

Perhaps not. The Bunker Hill and Flower Street office towers would be excluded, as would most of the 1920s bank buildings that are now condos and apartments. A lot of the conversation is going to focus on how the northern two-thirds of downtown would now be united as part of the same 14th District that includes Boyle Heights and far-away Eagle Rock. But the 9th District, in addition to Watts, would include downtown's Staples Center, L.A. Live and, assuming it gets built, Farmers Field football stadium.

So is this now the Anschutz Entertainment Group district, and will Watts now become the afterthought of AEG, instead of remaining the afterthought of the Port of Los Angeles? Could the AEG connection be better leveraged to help fund improvements in Watts?

Don't know the answer yet. Let's watch and listen.


Watts and Not-Watts

Planned remapping of  L.A. City Council districts draws fire

INTERACTIVE MAP: Current and proposed Los Angeles City Council districts

--Robert Greene

Supreme Court votes for states' rights in Texas redistricting case

Supreme Court
For those who follow political and legal controversies over the Voting Rights Act, there were a couple of eyebrow-raising features of the Supreme Court’s decision last week in a Texas case.

The court rejected an interim redistricting plan necessitated by population growth that will give the state four new seats in the House of Representatives. The plan was drawn by a federal court in Texas, which rejected a map drawn by the state legislature.

The lower court’s plan was friendlier to the creation of minority districts than the legislature’s version. But the justices ordered the lower court to go back to the drawing board and use the legislature’s plan as a “starting point” for a map to be used in the April 3 primary. They criticized the lower court for having "substituted its own concept of the 'collective public good' for the Texas Legislature's determination of which policies serve the interests of the citizens of Texas."

The legislature’s map is still awaiting approval -- or disapproval -- by a special federal court in Washington, D.C. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of racial discrimination in voting must “preclear” voting changes with either the attorney general or the D.C. court. Meanwhile, opponents of the legislature’s map sought to block it based on another part of the Voting Rights Act covering the entire nation. Thus the Texas federal court’s map.

The legalities are complicated, the politics less so. The legislature’s map was drawn by a Republican majority. It is opposed by Democrats and Latino activists who say it dilutes minority voting power.

Hovering over the dispute is an argument by conservatives that Section 5, which like the rest of the Voting Rights Act was inspired by the discriminatory practices of the 1950s and 1960s, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has not squarely addressed that issue, but -- ominously for minorities and the Democrats they tend to support -- it said in a 2009 case that Section 5 raised “serious constitutional questions” related to states’ rights. This week’s decision cited that language.

So what’s so intriguing about this decision? First, it was unanimous, coming in an unsigned opinion with no recorded dissents. That suggests that even liberals on the court take seriously the idea that federal judges are too ready to override the decisions of legislators in states with a history of old-fashioned voting discrimination. That’s a sign of the times. So is the fact that the court that overrode the legislature in the Texas case was located -- in Texas! The reason Congress gave preclearance authority to a federal court in Washington was that it didn’t trust federal judges in the South to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Is that an obsolete assumption? If so, is the Voting Rights Act itself a relic? Sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to address that question.


Say no to retroactivity

Sue your own state? Why not?

Challenging eyewitness evidence

-- Michael McGough

Photo: The Supreme Court. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

Council District 15: Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?


Most of City Council candidate Joe Buscaino's campaign donations have come from within the 15th District, where he's running, and of those, the vast majority have come from San Pedro. His opponent, Warren Furutani, has raised only a tiny fraction of his funds from within the district. A large segment of his money comes from Asian American donors elsewhere in Los Angeles, California and around the nation.

Of Buscaino's 980 contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations, 613, or 62.6%, come from the 15th District, according to an analysis of records filed with the City Ethics Commission for the election that took place Nov. 8, plus additional donations through Dec. 3 for the Jan. 17 runoff.

Those donations accounted for $162,031.60, or 56.8% of Buscaino's total $285,271.60. San Pedro accounted for 95% of the in-district money.That comes to $153,356.60, or 53.8% of Buscaino's total, from San Pedro.

The analysis classified donations by Zip Code. Some donors may have given twice: once, up to the $500 limit for the primary, followed by a second contribution up to the same amount for the runoff (more properly known as the general election). The reported value of in-kind donations was considered along with monetary contributions.

The next contribution report, covering most of December, is due Thursday.

The 15th District includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Wattsand an adjacent portion of South Los Angeles. But for Buscaino, San Pedro is where the money is. Only 2.7% of his contributors, accounting for $8,675 or 3% of money raised, come from non-San Pedro portions of the district.

Buscaino has lived his entire life in San Pedro, and until the campaign patrolled that harbor-area community for the Los Angeles Police Department as a senior lead officer -- a sort of community liaison and trouble-shooter. All City Council District 15 representatives going back at least to World War II have been San Pedro residents.

San Pedro in particular and the district in general have been less generous to Furutani, who lives in Harbor Gateway, near Gardena. He took in 29 donations, amounting to $8,525, from the district in which he is running. That's a mere 2.6% of his total money raised so far. San Pedro accounts for 14 donations amounting to $4,325, or just $1.3% of his total.

Ninety-seven percent of Furutani's 1,056 donations, accounting for 97.4% of the money he has raised, comes from outside the 15th District.

Who are these contributors, and why are they giving? A scan of the names hints at one answer -- and serves as a reminder of the startling fact that Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city and the home of a huge Asian population, has had only one Asian American elected official. And that official, Councilman Mike Woo, left office nearly 19 years ago (Woo was defeated in a 1993 run for mayor; he currently is a member of the city Planning Commission).

Los Angeles, which was home to the nation's largest community of Japanese immigrants and first-generation Japanese Americans before World War II, and which is well known for Little Tokyo and Nisei week and continues to have a large number of residents with Japanese ancestry, has never elected a Japanese American councilman. Small neighboring cities have, but not L.A. itself.

Asian Americans have mobilized to help Furutani become the first.

Of course, it's impossible to know for certain how many contributors are of Japanese descent, or how many are Asian at all. There is no race or ethnicity category for donation records. Scanning a list of contributors and picking out the Asian names is problematic. Are Lee, Young and Kim Asian names or English names? Birth names or married names? And of course, there is no way to know if a contributor gave money mostly because of racial identity or for any of the many other reasons that people donate to candidates. Some may have given because they are Furutani's colleagues in the Legislature or are candidates for other office, part of a phenomenon noted in a previous post.

Some readers might consider it inappropriate to even attempt to tally people by race or name. Yet it's an important part of Furutani's story. So I gave it a shot.

Of the 1,056 donors outside the 15th District, 557 have either Asian-sounding names or are businesses or organizations that directly express an Asian identity. That accounts for $147,119.80, or a huge 44.1% of the money Furutani has raised so far for the primary and the general elections. Of that, Japanese-sounding names account for $84,815.80, or 25.5% of his fundraising total.

Japanese American donors include high-ranking county officials, four Los Angeles Superior Court judges and one Fresno judge.

In addition to money they raise themselves, the candidates can use matching funds provided by the city and get the benefit of independent expenditure campaigns by outside groups. More on those in a future post.


Voting now underway

The Capitol contingent

Buscaino and the council cop bloc

 --Robert Greene

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

Council District 15: Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring


Tie two shoelaces together at the ends with a granny knot and you're left with something shaped very much like Harbor Gateway, which links the northern and southern parts of Los Angeles' Council District 15. The odd contours are not a gerrymander, at least not in the traditional sense. Los Angeles annexed this "shoestring" strip in 1906 in anticipation of taking over, several years later, the independent cities of Wilmington and San Pedro and the adjacent muddy bay. With federal money for a breakwater and dredging, that bay became the Port of Los Angeles.

Living in something called a shoestring may not be conducive to civic pride, but the current name reminds residents that they're part of the city primarily as a link to an asset that's as much as 10 miles away. It's a hard area to represent on the City Council, and a hard area for residents to get the attention of their council member. So far, everyone voters have elected to represent this district has lived in and had a voter base in San Pedro, at least going back to World War II. That would remain the case if LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino is elected in the Jan. 17 runoff to succeed Janice Hahn. But his opponent, state Assemblyman Warren Furutani, lives in Harbor Gateway. Although his mailing address is Gardena.

A Harbor Gateway welcome and a tagger's ominous responseThat's another thing about Harbor Gateway: If you live there, the post office and almost everyone else says you live in Gardena or Torrance, not Los Angeles. Even the high school, located in Los Angeles, is called Gardena High. The Holiday Inn is called the Torrance Gateway. Fallas Paredes, the discount chain, says its headquarters is in Gardena. The Wal-Mart says it's in Torrance. The many trucking, shipping and logistics companies that have quarters in the granny knot area identify with either of those two South Bay cities -- although the fact that they cluster in a narrow strip of Los Angeles rather than Gardena or Torrance puts the lie to the common assertion that L.A. is unfriendly to business.

The two neighborhood councils, at least, know where they are; they split at the knot into North and South councils. Harbor Gateway North also shoots east from the shoestring, running along both sides of the Century Freeway as well as south down the Harbor Freeway.

Pregerson 08 Ken LubasThe gateway to the gateway is the monumental interchange stack between the two freeways. Construction obliterated so much of the neighborhood that a legal agreement mandated the creation of an affordable housing developer to create 4,000 units to replace what was lost, together with job training programs. The developer then became Century Housing Corp. The stack was named for Judge Harry Pregerson, who presided over the lawsuit and the agreement.

The north portion has the Harbor Freeway -- the 110 -- as its spine, taking up a large swath of its mere eight blocks of width between Vermont Avenue and Figueroa. The knot, in addition to its office parks and trucking centers, includes two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup sites, emblematic of the contaminated industrial legacy left to the people of Harbor Gateway.

The Del Amo Facility was in the so-called Dominguez Addition, which was annexed to the city in 1943 just in time for the construction there of a synthetic rubber plant. The facility helped the U.S. win World War II, but its continued operation into the 1970s contaminated the soil and drinking water with PCBs and other dangerous substances. Just to the west, on Normandie, is the site of Montrose Chemical Corp., once the world's largest producer of DDT. Defenders of the insecticide say it prevented countless cases of malaria; perhaps, but Montrose's practice of dumping waste into the ground, and then into the county sewer system, contaminated drinking water and created a toxic offshore dump a mile off the Palos Verdes Penninsula. To this day, white croaker and other fish caught there are deemed poisonous.

Further south, Harbor Gateway takes up a different eight blocks in width, from Normandie to Western, unimpeded by the Harbor Freeway to the east. This region has been troubled by gang violence exacerbated by racial tension. African Americans whose parents and grandparents were restricted in their living patterns around Los Angeles by racially restrictive covenants into the 1950s (although by then such covenants were outlawed) now found their movements restricted by Latino gangs, which reportedly declared areas of Harbor Gateway and adjacent areas off-limits to blacks.

The violence drew citywide attention with the 2006 murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Injunctions and a surge of policing have helped stem the violence. But patrolling is complex and must be coordinated with police in Torrance and Gardena and the county sheriff in Carson and the adjacent unincorporated West Carson strip.

The gang crime, environmental and economic challenges of Harbor Gateway would provide a full plate for any City Council member. But it's the district's awkward geography -- a half-mile wide, connecting better-known Watts and the more politically powerful harbor area nine miles away -- that pose the biggest obstacle to the area's adequate representation.

In The Times' Mapping L.A. comments section for Harbor Gateway, an anonymous former resident said in June 2010:

"The city puts no money into it and as a result, crime has escalated. Building codes go unenforced; crime is rampant; not a place to raise children."


Watts and Not-Watts

Questions, and frustration

Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

-- Robert Greene

Photos: Top, a Harbor Gateway welcome and a tagger's ominous response. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times. Bottom, the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange. Credit: Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times.

Council District 15: About the district

Joe Buscaino, Warren Furutani vie to succeed Janice Hahn

City Council districts change every 10 years as lines are redrawn to reflect demographic shifts recorded in the decennial census. This decade's current redistricting effort is now underway. But except for gaining or losing a few blocks at the far northern end, where Watts joins South Los Angeles and the central city, Council District 15 doesn't change. It can't, and it won't, because it has nowhere else to go. It's fenced in by the harbor on the south and the very strange shape of the city boundaries from there northward. Unless more territory is annexed to or detached from Los Angeles, this district will look pretty much the same in 50 years as it does today.

Take a look at these maps of the City Council districts today, in the 1990s, the 1980s and the 1970s (maps courtesy of the city's excellent Bureau of Engineering online map gallery). Not much change, save for some gradual addition in territory linking Watts to Harbor Gateway.




Politically, too, it's a somewhat odd district. San Pedro may be in some respects the city's most conservative enclave after the far northwest San Fernando Valley. But it's a conservatism built on and tempered by a strong union presence in the port, and when joined with more liberal voters in Watts and Wilmington, this district is one of the few in the city that is just as likely to choose a liberal Democrat, a conservative Democrat or a Republican.

Janice Hahn, a Democrat who left the office earlier this year after her election to Congress, was one of the council's most liberal members. She was elected in 2001 in the same election that made her brother, Jim Hahn (also a liberal Democrat), mayor. Janice Hahn succeeded Rudy Svorinich, a Republican; Svorinich in turn defeated Republican Joan Milke Flores in 1993 in the post-riot election that saw voters elect Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles' first GOP mayor in decades.

Flores had been secretary, planner and then chief of staff to City Council President John S. Gibson Jr. before succeeding him on the council in 1981. Gibson, a Democrat, represented the 15th District for 30 years, from the 1950s into the 1980s. In the early part of his term he was deemed one of the council's few liberals. The city's politics changed over the decades, but his didn't, and Gibson left the council as one of its more conservative members.

Both candidates vying for the post in the Jan. 17 runoff -- LAPD officer Joe Buscaino and Assemblyman Warren Furutani -- are Democrats. Furutani has the support of much of the Democratic Party establishment, including the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and elected Democrats such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Council members Bernard C. Parks and Paul Koretz, and a bevy of lawmakers in Congress and the Legislature. He also has labor backing from the politically influential UNITE HERE Local 11, representing hotel and restaurant workers. On Thursday, he won support from the city's largest civilian public employee union, SEIU Local 721. The union, a major player in City Hall, backed firefighter and union activist Pat McOsker in the Nov. 8 nominating election.

Buscaino is backed by his own union -- the Los Angeles Police Protective League -- and decline-to-state-party City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and Councilman Dennis Zine. Add support from Democratic council members Tom Labonge and Jose Huizar, and the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.

The candidates split endorsements from construction and building and trade unions and teacher unions; United Teachers Los Angeles is going with Buscaino, which is interesting given that Furutani is a former school board member. But all in all, does Buscaino's backing represent a slightly more conservative shade of Democrat than Furutani's? Yes. And no. But perhaps we can say Furutani's people are more the entrenched political establishment and Buscaino's are more the insurgents, or at least the outsiders? Kind of, sort of. It's the 15th District. It's complicated.


Council District 15: Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

Buscaino outraises Furutani

Buscaino, Furutani appear headed toward runoff

--Robert Greene

State redistricting nears finish line

Willie Brown Jay Clendnin Los Angeles TimesTwo attempts by Republicans to challenge an independent commission's district maps were thrown out today by the state Supreme Court. The GOP's last hope for challenging the lines will come in the form of a referendum on the November ballot -- if backers can get enough signatures.

The high court ruling further undermines the hope that many Republicans had to enlarge their presence in the state Capitol.

It was the California Democrats who for years blocked efforts by good-government types to change the state redistricting process. After all, Democrats had the clear majority in the Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and they had no intention of giving up their power to draw new lines every 10 years after census figures came out. Former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said in 2008 that defeating Proposition 11 -- the measure that put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting the Assembly and the Senate (oh, and the state Board of Equalization, but so what?) -- was almost as important as electing Barack Obama president.

But voters adopted Proposition 11 by a hair, and last year added Proposition 20, which made House seats also subject to the independent commission's map-drawing.

Both campaigns were funded largely by Republican Charles T. Munger Jr., and his efforts were cheered and supported by rank-and-file Republicans who argued that finally the Democratic lock on the state could be broken.

It didn't turn out that way. The commission's maps could end up giving Democrats close to the two-thirds supermajority they'd need in the Senate and Assembly to pass taxes without GOP support.

Munger said last month that he had no regrets.

--Robert Greene


Make way for redistricting in California

California redistricting: Don't expect any magic

New voting districts give the GOP that boxed-in feeling

Photo: Former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

Redistricting: The culture part is easy -- politics, not so much


Ted Rall / For the Times


California's redistricting commission: It doesn't reflect the state

Passage of Prop. 20, which hands redistricting power to a bipartisan commission, moves us closer to being a less partisan state

Easy ways to memorize the Nov. 2010 ballot propositions

When attempting to memorize ballot propositions for an upcoming election, "fun" isn't necessarily the first word that springs to mind. For most, the words "labor-intensive" are far more applicable.

The job becomes much easier once connections have been formed between the proposition and its meaning.

The most obvious connection between title and topic can be found in Proposition 23. This proposition deals with repealing AB 32, an environmental law passed in 2007. Switch around the numbers in 32, the number found in the title of the law, and you get 23, which corresponds directly to the number of proposition.

It's simple enough, but then again, it's only one of the 10 measures to be voted on in November. More convenient combinations will be available soon. Until then, be a prudent voter and keep reading up on the propositions to ensure you'll enter the voting booth on Nov. 4 informed!

-- Emilia Barrosse



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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