LA City Council amends ballot measure that promises ‘truly independent redistricting’


The Los Angeles City Council approved amendments Tuesday to a ballot measure to establish an independent redistricting commission that would be tasked with redrawing the boundaries of council districts for future elections.

In a 13-0 vote, council members instructed the City Attorney’s Office to update the measure to reflect changes approved by the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform earlier this month.

Establishing an independent redistricting commission requires a change to the City Charter, which will need approval by voters.

“To say its been a journey to get here is an understatement,” said Councilwoman Nithya Raman, a member of the ad hoc committee. “We are finally here, and I’m very, very excited to be voting on something that will be sent before the voters in November so that we here in the city of Los Angeles can finally get a truly independent redistricting commission.”

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She said the changes made by the committee will help bring the city closer to being “free of corruption, free of conflicts of interest, and closer to the kind of city that every single resident of Los Angeles deserves to live in.”

Council President Paul Krekorian echoed Raman’s sentiments, adding that residents will be able to vote on something that has “never passed this council in the 100 years that this council has existed as a 15-member body.”

“I can’t stress enough about the historic vote that you’re about to take, which will once and for all take redistricting completely out of the hands of this council and give it to the citizens to decide who will represent them — rather than having elected officials decide which citizens they want to represent.”

The amendments cover different aspects of how the independent commission would work.

The ad hoc committee recommended expanding the applicant pool to allow someone who is not a registered voter or even a citizen of the United States serve on the commission. Another recommendation is to conduct a random drawing at a public meeting to select one person from eight geographic areas to serve.

Another recommendation would provide live translation of commission meetings in English and Spanish, as well as any documents. In another effort to bolster participation, the commission would be tasked with providing outreach materials and other important documents in the city’s 14 most spoken languages.

The recommendations also include providing redistricting training to the commission as well as workshops for the public.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, some groups expressed their support for an independent redistricting commission, including California Common Cause, an organization that advocates for government transparency and redistricting reform.

“Independent redistricting commission means that fair maps will serve residents, not incumbent politicians,” Russia Chavis Cardenas, voting rights and redistricting program manager at California Common Cause, told City Council members.

“In 2008, our office helped end partisan gerrymandering at the state and congressional lines with the establishment of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission — the gold standard for IRCs in the state,” she added.

While Cardenas backed the city’s proposal, she urged officials to provide the commission with guaranteed funding, as well as allowing the commission to hire its own legal counsel. She also recommended that the council ensure that city employees would not be allowed to serve on the commission until at least four years after leaving the city workforce.

Jeremy Payne of Catalyst California, one of the members of the Our LA Coalition — a group of community-based organizations advocating for racial justice, political reform and transparency — urged council members to incorporate more opportunities for general public comment during IRC meetings.

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During Tuesday’s meeting, City Council members also voted 12-0 in favor of recommendations to create an independent redistricting commission for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Council members instructed city staff to prepare a ballot measure for a panel similar to the city’s commission.

A requirement of the LAUSD’s process would ensure that four of the commissioners be parents or guardians of students, and students who are at least 16 years old would also be allowed to apply.

The ad hoc committee was created in the wake of the City Hall scandal two years ago in which three council members, two of them now gone, were caught on a leaked recording discussing ways to redraw districts in their favor under the current redistricting system — which takes place every 10 years, but which also allows incumbent members to have the ultimate say.

That leaked conversation also contained racist comments that led to former Council President Nury Martinez’s resignation, among other fallout.

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