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Lawsuit Looms Over Alleged Backroom Deals

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At least one council member is now considering a lawsuit over the city's redistricting process, pointing to possible backroom dealing and violations of the Voting Rights Act after the release of new district maps that have prompted widespread confusion and backlash.

When the draft redistricting maps for Los Angeles were released in January, it was clear there would be some winners and some losers. Councilman Bernard Parks, for his part, lost the affluent Baldwin Hills and historic Leimert Park neighborhoods when they were moved into the adjacent Council District 10, which is represented by Council President Herb Wesson.

Among the rumors floating around at City Hall right now "? that Parks lost these areas because he didn't vote for Wesson for president. While he would not call it anything other than a rumor, Parks said he has retained a consultant who has advised him to keep track of any potential violations of the law in case they decide to sue the city of Los Angeles.

"If this is going as we contemplate the way it is going, [then] the only response and the only way you can rectify it is go and have a lawsuit to have this turned around," Parks said.


Click to view proposed map.

The transfer of Leimert Park and most of Baldwin Hills from CD8 to CD10 was troublesome for at least one member of the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission, too.

In a series of confidential emails obtained by SoCal Connected, this commissioner complained that the goal of the transfer was to increase the number of black registered voters to more than 50 percent in Wesson's district, even though the current percentage is much lower.

"Race was the sole factor in determining the boundaries of CD10, in possible violation of the Voting Rights Act," the commissioner wrote.

Parks could not confirm the allegations, but he did share the commissioner's view.

"To have CD10 decide by their commissioner's statement that they want to take Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Vista, Village Green and Leimert Park into the 10th district for one sole purpose - they want the black vote "? well, that's illegal to redistrict on the basis of race."

In another confidential email exchange, one commissioner claimed redistricting chair Arturo Vargas' pledge for an open and transparent process was "anything but open and transparent." Chairman Vargas, the commissioner wrote, split the 21-person commission into three committees "specifically to avoid triggering the Brown Act. Thus, all discussions regarding the regional line drawing were held behind closed doors."

The Brown Act is a state law holding that whenever a majority of members of a legislative body meet to take action on public business, public notice is required. By imposing a rule that prohibited the three committees from communicating with each other during the map-making process, the commissioner wrote, Vargas in effect avoided triggering the Brown Act, since a majority of commissioners would never be present.

Without talking to each other, the commissioner claimed, "there were important decisions made and driven by one Regional Line Drawing Committee that then tied the hands of another Regional Line Drawing Committee."

Meanwhile, the same commissioner who claimed that CD10's goal was simply to increase the black vote also raised concerns about splitting Koreatown into two districts, arguing the new map is a gerrymander (more on the nuances of THAT process here). The proposed map has part of Koreatown linked with South Los Angeles, something the commissioner called a "con" because the two communities have little in common.

Some community members in Koreatown are fighting the plan to split their community in two. Discussions of the redistricting maps have even led to accusations that members of Wesson's staff bribed and threatened Korean business owners. The allegations have repeatedly surfaced at public hearings and most recently in an article in the Korean Daily News.

"If the allegations are true, then I would think people in the community would be willing to come forward," Parks said.

So far no one has. But last week a community activist has set up a "tip line" for Korean residents to report their concerns. The call center says they've gotten nearly two dozen calls so far. (See reactions at commission hearing. Concerned citizens can call the tip line at 213-444-1452.)

A staffer with Herb Wesson's office claimed all of these allegations are totally false. When asked on Tuesday, Councilman Wesson refused to speak with SoCal Connected about this story. Calls to Redistricting Chair Arturo Vargas have not been returned.

"Now we are down to the last two weeks of the process and most people who have attended the meetings have no faith in what the outcome is going to be," Parks said.

Lata Pandya and Brian Frank contributed reporting to this story.

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