As the redistricting battle over L.A. City Council seats heats up, one big surprise is dominating the debate: the rapid growth of San Fernando Valley-centered council districts means that boundaries for other districts will be creeping towards the Valley.

"The Valley is acting like a giant magnet, pulling our council districts toward it," L.A. City Councilman Nick Pacheco said last week.

According to U.S. Census data arranged by the L.A. City Planning Department, three of the Valley's four council districts posted double-digit population growth rates between 1990 and 2000. The highest growth rate 14.2 percent was in Councilman Joel Wachs' Second District, followed closely by Alex Padilla's Seventh District at 13.9 percent.

Meanwhile, Mike Hernandez's First Council District in downtown L.A. actually posted a 3.8 percent loss during the 1990s, while Pacheco's own Eastside 14th District posted a negligible gain of 130 people.

Citywide, the count of 3.69 million people represented a gain of 6 percent for the decade, much less than expected.

All sorts of reasons have been put forth to explain why the city portion of the Valley grew so much while the rest of the city stagnated.

These include:

- More available land for development in the Valley;

- Cheaper housing, particularly small single-family and multifamily units that encourage middle-class residents to move out of crowded inner-city areas;

- Stronger employment growth in the Valley than in the rest of the city, especially during the last couple of years; and

- An apparent undercount of residents in the highly mobile immigrant communities near downtown and on the Eastside.

Whatever the reasons for the disparate growth rates, city leaders must now come to grips with them during the redistricting process, which must be wrapped up by July 1, 2002.

"There's definitely been talk of adding another Valley-only seat on the council," said David Gershwin, communications deputy for Councilman Padilla.

The most likely scenario had been to make either the Fifth or the 11th Council District the Valley-only seat. Sizeable portions of both districts now extend into the Valley.

But thanks to the recently concluded April primary elections, that can't happen. No Valley resident will represent either of those districts come July 1 on the Council 11th District incumbent Cindy Miscikowski won her re-election bid outright, while both Fifth District contestants in the June runoff, Tom Hayden and Jack Weiss, live on the city side of the district. City charter rules forbid any redrawing of district boundaries that would force a sitting council member out of his or her seat.

So that leaves two other options for council members as they embark on redistricting. They can either carve out portions of several Valley districts to create a new one, or they can move one or two bordering council districts so that they are mostly in the Valley.

Whichever path the council members choose, other council districts will be impacted. They will have to move into the space vacated by the additional Valley-centered district or districts. Thus, just as Pacheco said, the boundaries of those districts have to move in the direction of the Valley, to the north and west.

Ironically, in the short run, this isn't going to give the Valley much more clout, since at most, only one more council member can be from the Valley.

"None of the sitting council members in districts that are only partially in the Valley actually reside in the Valley, so don't expect the Valley to suddenly have much more influence just because the district lines change," said L.A. political consultant Jorge Flores.

But in the longer run, after several election cycles take place, the Valley does stand to gain more clout at City Hall assuming, of course, that the Valley doesn't secede in the meantime.

Pacheco's Council President Bid

Now that longtime L.A. City Council President John Ferraro has passed away, the race is on to succeed him as president. Three council members have thrown their hats into the ring: Current council president Ruth Galanter (who was acting president during Ferraro's long illness); Cindy Miscikowski and Nick Pacheco.

In the old days before term limits, it would be unthinkable for someone like Pacheco, who was only elected to the council two years ago, to even make a run for council president. Seniority was usually the rule.

But now, it's a different story, and, although he remains the underdog compared to his longer-tenured rivals, nobody is ruling him out.

At a forum last week, Pacheco outlined his plans for the council presidency. If he were running the show, Pacheco said, the biggest change would be less work done in full council meetings and more done in committee meetings.

"I really believe that the council meetings are the end product of our committee work, and I would like to facilitate that more," he said. "I might also be a little less generous on granting public hearings on items after they've already been through public hearings in committee."

And given his greater emphasis on committee work, Pacheco said that if he were president, he would make sure that he didn't only appoint "yes" men or women to committees.

"John Ferraro would sometimes place persons on committees because they were antagonistic towards projects that came before the committee," he said. "That way, compromises can be reached in committee and not have to wait for the full council."

"It also shows that the president of the council is not afraid to put people in the room who don't always agree with his or her views," Pacheco said of placing potential antagonists on committees. "And that's good because it promotes debate and an exchange of ideas, which I believe is the essence of government."

The vote for council president will take place some time in July, after the new council members come on board. Until then, Galanter remains council president.

Galanter and Miscikowski will outline their platforms in upcoming columns.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be contacted at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.