Councilman Wesson and Redistricting

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

On March 16, City Council accepted, without any serious debate and few amendments, the final map submitted to them by the Redistricting Commission.

CD 10 gained a little bit more of Koreatown and   Councilman Parks district lost the street he lives on. After the city attorney drafts the resolution it is expected to come back to council for a vote in May.

The map has forced Councilman Wesson, newly elected President of the City Council, to defend himself against accusations of misusing his new power to punish and reward. It  has also resulted in cries of corruption by one of the commissioners, while two city council members brought on accusations of back room dealings and  Koreatown activists made accusations of financial extortion by Councilman Wesson’s office.

On the day City Council was scheduled to vote on the map, the council chambers were full with a majority speaking out against it. Student activists from Councilwoman Jan Perry’s district pleaded for City Council to reconsider taking development funding out of her district as it provided much needed revenue for their schools. Preachers from Councilman Bernard Parks district claimed Tom Bradley would roll over in his grave at the lack of respect being shown their communities and three lawsuits have been threatened. Yet it was all an exercise in futility. Ignoring the issues brought up by the pleading crowd, the City Council voted without much debate, 13 to 2 to accept the map.

The media has not minced words.

 

March 2, Los Angeles Downtown News wrote:

“The latest shenanigans flow directly from Council President Herb Wesson, who in the past few months has demonstrated a propensity for punishing enemies and rewarding friends simply because he can. His latest move is additional evidence that he cares much more about political power than he does the good of constituents.”

There is no love lost between Councilman Wesson and Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks both of whom failed to show up at the Councilman’s swearing in as Council President. Councilwoman Perry had been critical of the behind the scenes maneuvering that she believes put Wesson in power and expressed concern about backroom meetings to decide how to divide up the territory before the commission began its work.  Her district, the 9th which covered downtown and the development boom she helped usher in, is one of the most lucrative tax and funding sources in the city. In 2008 Parks had a major dustup with Andrew Westall, (the current Executive Director of the commission) who, along with Wesson’s son, worked for Parks campaign. Both had been accused of making unauthorized robocalls to the tune of $60,000 resulting in a lawsuit for Parks by the Call Center. Parks lost. But Gabriel Grunspan, a fourteen year friend of Westall who had been working with him at the time, has recently come forth and sworn he overheard among other things, Westall admitting he hadn’t alerted Parks to the calls. Parks used this to reopen and appeal the case. Westall until recently was also a staffer in Councilman Wesson’s office before becoming the  Executive Director of the Redistricting Commission. Parks raised concern to the Ethics Commission about the ability for Westall, accused of perjury in an upcoming lawsuit with Parks, to remain objective. They were unmoved.


From City News Service, Nov. 2011:

"I'm not in a position to say whether he perjured himself or not. That's for the court to decide,'' Parks, Jr. said. ``But the fact that the question is out there does cause the conflict of interest. If you begin to quibble over boundaries between the 8th (Parks) and 10th (Wesson) districts, where do you think (Westall) comes out on that?'' Parks said. ``It's an extremely uncomfortable position to go through a process where (Westall) would be redrawing the lines of the councilman's district. No other council member is in litigation with the person drawing the lines,'' he added.”

Perry’s and Park's concerns proved legitimate when they found that both their districts were gutted of a majority of their lucrative tax base.  Councilman Huizar, considered a Wesson ally, was given Perry’s wealthy commercial downtown districts, an area Perry successfully helped develop, while commercial zones and communities in Parks CD8 district, including the street Parks lived on, suddenly found themselves enveloped by Wesson’s District 10. (With the amendments, Perry managed to get back the Staples Center and the Convention Center and Parks was given back the street he lives on)  They were both also stripped of their longstanding Committee Chair positions.


On Feb 17 2012 the LA Times reported:

“Wesson denies newly drawn council districts are payback. The L.A. council president refutes assertions by colleagues Parks and Perry that he's altering their districts in retaliation for their lack of support.”

“Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said Wesson is playing hardball in a way that his predecessor, Councilman Eric Garcetti, did not. And he argued that this year's redistricting process is far more politicized than it was a decade ago.‘The council appears to be at war with each other. There seem to be factions. The incoming president is coming with his team, and rewarding his team and punishing others — specifically Parks, and to a lesser extent, Perry,’ he said.”

“Commissioner Helen Kim, who opposed the changes, said they were ‘absolutely’ designed to punish Perry and Parks. ‘Parks has just gotten written out of the district where he lives. You don't think that's a slap in the face?’ she said.”

SoCal Connected received a series of confidential emails from one of the commissioners explaining why the land grab from CD8 was important to Wesson.

“ the goal of the transfer was to increase the number of black registered voters to more than 50 percent in Wesson’s district, even though the current percentage [of black voters currently living in the district] is much lower.

“Race was the sole factor in determining the boundaries of CD10, in possible violation of the Voting Rights Act,” the commissioner wrote.”

This seemed to be confirmed in emails discovered by Parks and Perry and written by Wesson appointee Christopher Elliot. Elliot talks about moving the white community of Palms out of the 10th district and moving black communities from Parks district into Wesson territory, the 10th.

But Commissioner Jerry Gaines, representing the 15th district at the south end of the map, had a different explanation for the new boundaries. In a discussion with Matt Pressberg, staff reporter with USC Annenberg, he explained that technical limitations in the mapping software prohibited the commission’s ability to work as a group forcing them to split up into three teams with seven members each. Because of the 15th districts unique geographical position at the bottom of the map and the fact that their population was larger than the required numbers, some of the communities at the top of the 15th district had to be added on to the southern end of the 8th and 9th districts forcing them to give up some of their northern territory to the 10th (Wesson) and 15th (Huizar).

This explanation does little to calm concerns of backroom dealing nor explain the lack of transparency or accountability within the committees which bolstered accusations of a conspiracy designed to award some and punish others. The Redistricting Commission was made up of 21 members. They voted to break up into three committees composed of reps from neighboring districts.  Seven members in each gave them less than a majority of the whole allowing them to avoid the required scrutiny and openness required by the Brown Act which holds that whenever a majority of members of a legislative body (in this case 11 members) meet to take up public business, public notice and participation is required.

A rule was imposed on the committees by Chairman Arturo Vargas, that forbade them from talking to each other, keeping the discussion contained within the 7 members of their committee. This avoided the possibility of outside discussion that might raise the number in the group to 11 participants which would activate the Brown act and allow the public or other members in on the discussion.  So each group worked behind closed doors which might explain the crazy erratic borders of the districts. A subcommittee appointed by the Chair resolved overlapping borders. These closed door sessions and a voting block made up of Wesson’s appointee,Chris Ellison and commissioners appointed by Wesson friendly Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilman Jose Huizar (whose district acquired the lucrative dowtown area) fed the perception and fueled suspicions that an agenda was on the table and the wishes of the commissioner’s Councilmember benefactors were driving the conversation.

 

 

The LA Times reported in a Jan. 25 article that Chris Ellison had complained in an email that a competing map floating around would strip Wesson of Koreatown, which was “disrespectful” to Wesson, and left him with “scraps” from other districts. This only fed the perception that Wesson’s needs took precedence over the needs of the community.

Commissioner Helen Kim began to publicly accuse the commission of irregularities. Wanting continued transparency and community input, she voted against the motion to break the 21 members up into three groups. She also expressed concern about Executive Director Andrew Westall, who quit his job with Wesson to take on the job of executive director of the commission. She saw a conflict in allowing him to oversee a group that would be making decisions that would directly affect his longtime boss. She did not prevail in her concerns.

When the dust settled Perry and Parks districts were decimated and Koreatown was still divided (read our report on our front page). One of the jokes during a recent roast of Wesson to help raise money for diabetes was “By putting USC in the Ninth District, Wesson promised Jan Perry some Trojans while she gets screwed.”


An LA Times report on Feb. 26 cites a recent University of Illinois study finding that Los Angeles is the 2nd most corrupt city in America.
The most disheartening aspect of this news was in evidence during the City Hall meeting where the young teens showed up in force only to witness their concerns left unacknowledged or discussed by City Council. This will either energize their resolve to get involved or leave them with t
he lesson that you just can’t fight City Hall, so why bother.

 

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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