Los Angeles has just received new political maps. A scandal could tear them apart.
That means new district lines meant to last a decade could be erased and redrawn after just one election cycle — turning a chaotic week into a tumultuous year and forcing candidates and residents to adapt to an abruptly transformed landscape.
“Change is coming, whether it’s existing lines or the broader makeup of representation in the city,” said Robb Korinke, a Southern California consultant who runs Los Angeles campaigns. “I think it’s a radically changing event.”
Los Angeles is about to elect a new mayor amid chaos. Either candidate, Rep. Karen Bass or billionaire developer Rick Caruso, will have to forge alliances as the terrain changes if they hope to do anything in a city reeling from the animosity revealed by the gangs.
For many Angelenos, the tapes – which prompted President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders to call for the resignation of the three council members involved – confirmed suspicions of cynical politicians making behind-the-scenes deals to preserve and expand their authority. .
The council members filmed – one of whom has resigned – repeatedly use racist language as they discuss the distribution of ‘assets’ like the airport to ‘Latino districts’. They denigrated black people and plotted to dilute a colleague’s power by putting her neighborhood “into the blender.”
This prompted loud calls to verify and revise the process. California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced this week that his office would investigate how Los Angeles crafted lines to “restore confidence in the redistricting process for Los Angeles residents.” What that might mean, he did not specify.
If the attorney general files a lawsuit and a court finds the maps were drawn illegally for racial reasons, it would likely mean Los Angeles would be ordered to draw new lines for the next regular election, UCLA Voting said. Rights Project Legal Director Chad Dunn. If a judge finds the facts to be “particularly egregious,” the city could be ordered to hold a special election, he added.
“It could have far-reaching consequences,” Dunn said.
Such a radical change does not require the intervention of Bonta. The elected officials of Los Angeles have demanded to modify the practice of allowing the council to have the final say on boundary drawing, arguing that this should be done through an independent process like that used in California for seats in the House and Legislature.
“There have been efforts to suppress certain populations, suppress representation of certain populations at the expense of others,” Council member Curren Price said in an interview. “So this whole process, I think, is going to be looked at in a different way.”
City Attorney Mike Feuer wants to act quickly. He calls on the city council to call a special election next year in which voters would be asked to authorize an independent commission, which could then create new lines for the 2024 election.
“I don’t think, following the tape, the lines have the legitimacy they need,” Feuer said in an interview. “Things are very chaotic in city government at the moment, and hopefully we can turn to hard work in governance – and that has to be at the top of the list.”
Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell backs a proposal that would transform Los Angeles politics by increasing the number of council districts from 15 to 30.
“I want it done well before 2030, before the next census,” O’Farrell said, “and I want it done by 2024 or sooner if possible.”
But such changes will not be easy to implement in a culturally diverse and geographically diverse sprawl of nearly four million people.
“It’s an extraordinarily complex landscape to redraw in,” said Sara Sadhwani, a Pomona College politics professor who served on the redistricting commission that drew state and congressional maps for California. “There are so many interests, so many communities.”
Even advocates of an independent process warn that moving quickly could be asking too much of Angelenos. While the good government organization California Common Cause has long pushed Los Angeles to embrace an independent process, executive director Jonathan Mehta Stein said it needs to happen in a way that allows people to participate.
“While we believe these maps are corrupt, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for local organizations to educate their communities about redistricting, and they may not feel able to start all over again,” Stein said.
The process, he added, must have public support. “Otherwise it will only fuel more cynicism,” he said.
The snipers would benefit from relatively new census data that was only used for redistricting, and they could fall back on the work done by previous commissions.
“It wouldn’t be hard to do it again,” said Paul Mitchell, owner of Redistricting Partners.
And an overhaul may be inevitable – despite an earlier presumption that the city council would never forfeit its power to draw district lines. Now Mitchell has said, “I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen.”
But how it happens will be vital, Sadhwani said.
“We are at a critical moment in Los Angeles,” she said. “Rather than jumping into reforms, can we pause and reflect on what representation looks like in a multiracial, multiethnic democracy?”
Alexander Nieves and Lara Korte contributed to this report.