Bill Boyarsky
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February 20, 2012

Race and city redistricting

An overlooked aspect of Los Angeles’ fight over drawing new City Council district lines is whether the city power brokers—Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council members—will stir up racial animosity and discriminate against Latinos with their redistricting proposal.

There are other issues involved in the redistricting fight. But none of them are more important to L.A. in the long run as this dispute over ethnic representation, which touches on the racial tension that is always part of politics—and life—in this city.

The ethnicity issue a has been raised in a letter to the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission by Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It has also been brought up by Alan Clayton, a noted redistricting expert and advocate for Latino representation in several conversations with commission and City Council officials.

At issue is a plan drawing new boundaries for the 15 City Council districts as required every 10 years to account for population changes. The lines were drawn by a citizens commission appointed by the mayor, council members and other city elected officials. Villaraigosa and his council allies, who include Council President Herb Wesson, an African American, plus Latinos, seem to be calling the shots.

The redistricting commission plan, Ochoa said, would reduce Latino representation and “will directly put Latino and African American communities in electoral conflict throughout the coming decade.” If Latino representation is reduced, the city could conceivably be found in violation of the Voting Rights Act, which is designed to assure equal representation for minorities.

A perceptive reader might ask why a Latino mayor and his multi-ethnic allies favor a plan that could discriminate against Latinos and heat up always-delicate race relations. There are many theories but as of now I’ll write it off as another example of the murkiness of Los Angeles politics.

Ochoa and Clayton have particularly objected to the lines the commission has drawn for the 9th and 13th Districts. The 9th District is represented by Jan Perry, who is African American, as have been her immediate predecessors. She is also Jewish. The 13th is represented by Eric Garcetti, whose ancestry is a rich L.A. mix of Latino, Jewish and Italian forebears. Both are candidates for mayor in 2013.

The Perry 9th District would include much of South Los Angeles, as it does now, but would lose a big business portion of downtown, source of major campaign contributions. The Garcetti 13th District would continue to be Hollywood based but would lose Latino constituents while gaining more affluent white residents in parts of Silver Lake and around Griffith Park and Atwater.

Clayton said the commission plan, to be considered by the City Council, would reduce Latino representation on the council, from the present five to four because of the new boundaries in the 13th District, The new district could be whiter and with a demographic mix more favorable to an Asian or a gay or lesbian candidate than it is now under Garcetti.

Advocates of the commission plan disagree. While conceding that the proposed lines for the 13th District would make it harder for a Latino to win there, they say that the new boundaries for Perry’s 9th District would make up for this by giving a Latino a better chance to win in that constituency.

Ochoa denied this. Instead, he said, the commission has recommended a 9th District that is 46.3 percent Latino and 45.8 percent African America. This is not enough to help assure election of a Latino candidate and would create strife between the two ethnic groups fighting it out in an election.

His organization, MALDEF, recommends making the 9th District solidly African American while drawing lines for the l3th District that would include 50 percent Latino registered voters, enough for a Latino to win. In that way, there would be no ethnic battles, he said, while continuing the present number of five Latino council members and three African Americans.

Years ago, the city government was found guilty of violating the Voting Rights Act by denying Latinos representation on the City Council. As a result, Gloria Molina, now a county supervisor, won a council seat. If MALDEF feels the current commission plan violates the Voting Rights Act by costing Latinos a council seat, this one could also end up in court.

February 16, 2012

Hot times before big debate

If the last few days are any indication, the Jewish Journal debate starring Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman at Temple Judea in Tarzana Tuesday night should be pretty intense.

A third debater in the contest for the West San Fernando Valley congressional seat is Republican Mark Reed.

So far, attention has been focused on Berman vs. Sherman. At the Democratic state convention in San Diego last weekend, Berman supporter Betty Yee, a member of the State Board of Equalization, made waves with a blast at Sherman.

Yee, who was a veteran Sacramento legislative staffer before her election to the board, handed out a letter to delegates saying: “It would be insane, self-destructive and wrong—horribly wrong for the Democratic Party to support Brad Sherman against Howard Berman….Somebody has to say this—and I guess it’s going to be me, And I just did.
“Oh, you want your back slapped, Brad may be your guy,” she wrote. “But if you want someone to protect impoverished farm workers…women’s rights…immigrant rights, Howard Berman is your man.”

In the end, Sherman fell short of getting the convention endorsement. His campaign manager, Parke Skelton, told me he didn’t think the blast from Northern Californian Yee would hurt Sherman,. “She’s a good person, a great policy person but I don’t think her endorsement means much to voters in the district,” Skelton said.

Skelton, meanwhile, attacked Berman for telling MSNBC’s Chuck Todd he had no Super PACs in the race. These political committees can accept unlimited corporate contributions under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and Skelton noted reports that one supporting Berman had accepted a $10,000 contribution from PG&E. Actually, after telling Todd “I have no Super PACs, “ Berman backtracked and said “I have done everything I can to discourage any Super PAC creation and I have done nothing to encourage them.”

This is pretty small time stuff and candidates in one of the nation’s highest profile congressional races should be capable of rising above it and talking policy. Whether they do or not is up to the questioners, That would be Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of Tribe Media Corp., publisher of the Journal; Journal reporter Jonah Lowenfeld and me. It should be a good show,


Another Republican candidate, Susan Shelley, was not included in the debate and has protested vigorously.

Eshman said, “Susan Shelley simply didn't meet our debate criteria. She didn’t file a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. She didn't have any significant support, endorsements, didn't show up in the polls. She simply didn’t meet our criteria." Shelley said in an e-mail to me, “As you know, I'm Jewish, and a Republican, and socially moderate. It's my belief that Rob Eshman is trying to hide my candidacy from Jewish voters who might be inclined to cast a protest vote against the Democrats.”

February 6, 2012

Parents win cutback reprieve

Parents have won partial restoration of federal poverty funds for 23 schools in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. Many of the schools are in middle class neighborhoods but have substantial numbers of poor students.

The reprieve is only for a year. And the funds will come from money allocated to schools with many more poor students. While it’s a nice win for the parents with kids in the 23 schools, it’s really sad. People are fighting over scraps as Washington and state governments slash school funds. The situation is bleak in many states and California is one of those being hit the hardest.

John E. Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent, said the 23 schools would receive a part of the money they would have lost under a Board of Education decision made in December. The money is distributed under Title 1 of the federal aid to education law.

Involved are schools that have been receiving the aid because at least 40 per cent of their students are classified as living in poverty. With federal funds being reduced, the board raised the level of poverty students needed for eligibility to 50 percent, resulting in the proposed cutoff to the 23 students.

“In a time of great economic challenges and uncertainty, this option provides (the) schools with a ‘safety net’ while we transition to the new eligibility threshold,” Deasy said in a letter to the board.

Tamar Galatzan of the San Fernando Valley, the only school board member to vote against the cutoff, said, “ This is a short term solution to help the 23 district schools… It is our duty as a district to try to help them find both short-term and long-term solutions.”

The only long-term solution is giving more money to public education.

One is being proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who advocates an initiative for the November ballot that would raise state sales taxes by a half a cent and income taxes on taxpayers earning more than $250,000. The increases would expire in five years.

The proposal would, Louis Freedberg wrote in the EdSource web site, “yield billions of dollars for California schools.”

Brown will have a tough fight. Other well-meaning people are proposing their own tax increase initiatives. Too many initiatives make defeat of all of them likely. The best thing concerned parents can do is pressure all of them to get behind one measure, and then campaign like mad in the fall.

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