In 2002, residents in an often forgotten slice of Westchester faced the possibility of being moved outside their current council district boundary because of redistricting, but ultimately won their battle to stay in Council District 11.
Fast-forward 10 years and it was d/jˆ vu all over again.
Following a furious lobbying and signature gathering campaign as well as a full-court press from their local elected representative, residents from the area east of the 405 freeway known as “the triangle” won their fight to remain in the largely coastal district after the Los Angeles City Council voted to keep them in the region that many have called home for decades.
The council voted March 16 on the final redistricting map for city council districts and all of Westchester was returned to Council District 11.
An adjusted map by the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission submitted to the council earlier this month recommended moving the east Westchester neighborhood to Council District Eight.
Per the city charter, the council is required to review and redraw council district boundary lines after every census where there are changes in population.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl thanked his colleagues and paid tribute to the Westchester residents who attended multiple community meetings and commission hearings to lobby the commission as well as the council to keep their community intact.
“The people spoke loud and clear about what they wanted,” the councilman, who represents District 11, told The Argonaut after the council’s 13-2 vote. “There was such a united front among my constituents and I think my colleagues were able to appreciate that.”
Dallas Fowler, who lives on Ramsgate Avenue east of the freeway, received the news from her mother that the triangle would stay in District 11. “That was our plan the whole time,” she said.“I am so excited and thrilled that the council made the right decision.”
In the initial redistricting map released in February, Westchester east of Lincoln Boulevard, the planned community of Playa Vista and an industrial portion of Del Rey known as the Mesmer Triangle were moved to the Eighth District, which is represented by Councilman Bernard Parks.
At a Feb. 2 joint news conference, Parks and Rosendahl urged their supporters to demand that both of their districts be kept intact, and at a raucous meeting that night residents of Council Districts Eight and 11 faced off with the commissioners and exhorted them to restore the existing boundaries.
After the majority of the community as well as the Mesmer Triangle and Playa Vista were moved back into the district in a later map, Westchester residents then rallied to have the area east of the freeway brought back as well.
Triangle resident Robert Dalton said he always disagreed with the redistricting panel’s choice of using the freeway as a boundary divider between Districts Eight and 11.
“The Baldwin Hills are a real, natural geographic boundary,” said Dalton, who has lived in east Westchester for 20 years.
Dalton said he felt for Parks and Councilwoman Jan Perry, who both lost significant areas of their districts in the final redistricting map. Perry has suggested that politics played a factor in removing a large part of her downtown district. Parks lost USC.
In the map submitted by the commission, Parks was slated to lose residential Vista and Baldwin Hills, where the three-term councilman lives.
Both Parks and Perry are at odds with Council President Herb Wesson, who has denied orchestrating the outcome of the final map.
“It seems like retribution,” Dalton said.
Loyola Marymount University professor Fernando Guerra was not surprised by the level of acrimony that was on display throughout the redistricting process.
“It’s always been a highly political process with winners and losers,” Guerra, who teaches political science and Chicano studies, told The Argonaut.
Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe can relate to how politically charged redistricting can be. Last fall, the supervisor, who represents Marina del Rey and until last year Westchester, faced what he called a difficult choice of losing Westchester when the county redistricting commission added another community at the eastern end of his district.
Because the commission and the Board of Supervisors, as well as the council, are required to consider population changes, Westchester was moved to the county’s Second District because it has approximately the same numbers of residents as the new community that was added to the Fourth District.
“It was all about numbers,” the supervisor explained in an interview last November.
Knabe appeared not to have fond memories of the county redistricting process, which he feels was fraught with reclamations of disenfranchisement and political gamesmanship among various interest groups.
“It was probably the most challenging, divisive, political, racial things that I’ve ever gone through in my entire political career,” he told an audience of business owners March 7.
Guerra was also not surprised that the eastern potion of Westchester was moved back to Rosendahl’s district in the final vote. “In terms of the size of the area, it was a small enough piece (to move),” he said.
Rosendahl said he thought the united front among his constituents and the thousands of signatures on a petition that his office created were the turning points in the council’s decision to not separate east Westchester from his district. “I knew if they could not appreciate that kind of a response, then democracy was broken,” he said.
Fowler gave the councilman credit for his consistent support of the triangle residents and not abandoning them after the majority of Westchester was restored. “He stood beside us through the entire process,” she said.
Rob Kadota, a Mar Vista resident who was the vice chair of the redistricting commission, said one of the lessons he learned through the redistricting process is that nothing is as easy or straightforward as one would think.
Kadota referenced a suggestion from a Los Angeles Times editorial board recently that expressed the belief that a larger city council system would serve the city and its residents better and thinks that point of view is worthy of greater discussion.
“With greater council districts, more finessed council district lines could be drawn and increase stakeholder input and participation in local government,” noted Kadota, a former chair of the Mar Vista Community Council.
“How responsive can a council member be when they’re representing approximately a quarter of a million people?”
Despite her joy of knowing that her neighborhood will stay in District 11, Fowler said she was disappointed in the redistricting panel’s recommendations and what she feels was its inability to listen to the desires of the hundreds of residents who spoke in meetings.
“Over 1,000 people spoke before them, and they were not heard,” she said.
Rosendahl, who met with a number of triangle residents before the vote, was relieved to have his district almost fully intact after the vote. Because of its population increase, Council District 11 lost Palms east of the 405.
“It would have broken up a real family,” the councilman said. “I’m thrilled with the outcome.”
While Guerra noted that the political nature of the council redistricting was not out of the ordinary, he did find the February map that took away 80 percent of Westchester from the largely coastal district unexpected.
“I went into this thinking that the 11th District is untouchable,” the LMU professor admitted. “In highly politicized settings, logic doesn’t always prevail.”
Perry and a group of Korean-American groups vowed to bring legal action after the vote.
The council will consider an ordinance implementing the newly drawn boundaries in May.