Westside Clout Diminished in Redistricting Plans

Staff Reporter

An L.A. City Council redistricting plan that would eliminate the council district represented by Ruth Galanter and move it to the San Fernando Valley is raising ire on the city's Westside.

The redistricting proposal put forward late last month by a Latino group would cut the number of council seats in the Westside from the current three to two, effectively reducing the clout of the traditionally powerful Westside homeowner and business lobbies. It also would force Galanter, a Venice resident, to represent the distant communities of Van Nuys and North Hollywood for the final year of her term.

While by no means final, the plan or something very similar is expected to win approval from the L.A. City Council this spring and go into effect on July 1.

"There's no question that the Westside does lose clout under this plan," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University who both lives and works in the district that would be eliminated. "But the Westside has been over-represented since the last redistricting 10 years ago, and the 2000 census numbers just reinforced this."

That's little solace to Westside residents and business groups, particularly those in the Westchester area near Los Angeles International Airport.

"As a resident and business owner in Galanter's district, I'm upset by this, as are several of my friends and neighbors," said Gwen Vuchsas, co-owner of Seco Investigative Services and a past president of the Westchester-LAX-Marina del Rey Chamber of Commerce. "Ruth Galanter has really represented the residents and businesses of this area when it comes to the LAX expansion issue. If this passes, we'll lose all that and instead be represented by someone who's never really had to deal with the airport neighbors."

Change of representation

Under this redistricting plan, residents in Galanter's district who live west of the San Diego (405) Freeway including Westchester would be represented by Cindy Miscikowski; those on the east side of the 405 would fall primarily into the district of Jack Weiss. (A small portion of the district stretching around Baldwin Hills would be moved into the seat of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.)

The proposed plan, part of a once-a-decade redistricting process now under way, was drawn up by Alan Clayton, executive director of the California Latino Redistricting Coalition, and presented to city's redistricting commission late last month. That commission, composed of members appointed by each of the councilmembers and Mayor James Hahn, has been holding hearings around the city this month. It will present its recommendation to the Council in the spring.

The commission has not formally endorsed Clayton's plan, but it's the clear favorite. It adds a seat in the San Fernando Valley, which long has complained it's under-represented at City Hall; it preserves three districts where African-Americans have good chances to win elections; and it gives Latinos good shots at winning five seats on the Council.

"Addressing the concerns of Valley secessionists and minority empowerment are really powerful imperatives that will be hard to stop," said Raphe Sonenshein, political science professor at California State University Fullerton.

Galanter termed out

There's also a strong political imperative: Galanter is the only Westside councilmember who is termed out next year. And since losing her bid to become council president, she has lost standing on the Council. It is thus regarded as easier for other councilmembers to move her district than, say, Miscikowski or Weiss, who each have three more years to serve.

Galanter was out of town and could not be reached for comment last week. But her spokeswoman, Leah Wyman, said the councilwoman was opposed to the plan and is drawing up an alternative proposal to present to the commission. That would move Miscikowski's primarily Westside/coastal seat entirely into the San Fernando Valley and stretch her own district up the coast to Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

Opposition to the Latino-backed plan is not limited to the Westchester area and the LAX issue: there are broader concerns on the Westside about the loss of a seat.

"This is the sort of a plan that people have been afraid of for a number of years," said Larry Zehnder, president of the Westside Civic Federation, a coalition of Westside homeowner groups. "It gives people here less access to City Hall and it allocates fewer staff people to serve the Westside."

But some say that what the Westside will lose in council seats will be more than offset by the higher levels of political activism in the area.

"Power on the Westside flows not from the number of council seats but from the high level of voter and elite participation, which are probably the highest in the entire city," Sonenshein said.

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