The gymnasium at the Westchester Recreation Center on Feb. 2 was the epicenter of citizen outrage and unity as residents from around the Westside rallied against a redrawn council district plan that would move Westchester out of its longtime coastal district.
The Los Angeles Redistricting Commission produced a proposed map late last month that would move most of Westchester, Playa Vista and a portion of Del Rey out of the 11th District east to the Eighth District.
Under the draft boundary map, the Eighth District would absorb Westchester east of Lincoln Boulevard. Playa del Rey, Los Angeles International Airport and Loyola Marymount University would remain in the 11th District.
Westchester’s downtown and the hub of much of its commercial activity on Sepulveda Boulevard would be lost in this redistricting plan, as well as thousands of longtime homeowners.
That proposal has been roundly denounced by Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Bernard Parks, who represent the 11th and Eighth districts respectively, as well as constituents of both districts.
The city charter mandates that council district boundary lines be reviewed every decade, and the City Council is required to appoint a charter redistricting commission to advise the council.
Each member of the City Council appoints one commissioner, the mayor appoints three and the city controller and city attorney each name one.
Residents from both districts spoke before the commissioners at the Feb. 2 community hearing to describe what they love about their communities and why they should be kept intact. While the vast majority of 11th District speakers were from Westchester, neighborhood leaders from Playa del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice also came to lend support to their Westside neighbors.
Westchester businessman David Herbst challenged the commission to make a motion to reinsert Westchester back into the community, claiming that the commissioners were empowered to do so.
Commissioner Arturo Vargas declined, explaining that placing Westchester back in the 11th District as an option was not a part of the night’s agenda.
A group named “the Committee to Save Westchester” has created a map that it plans to submit to the commissioners that keeps Westchester and Playa Vista within the 11th District.
Terry Marcellus, a lifetime Westchester resident, drew some of the night’s loudest applause when he walked the commissioners through a timeline of his life as someone who attended elementary, junior high and high school on both sides of Lincoln Boulevard. “My parents moved here in 1952,” he began. “I grew up east of Lincoln and I currently live west.
“My first apartment was east of Lincoln, my second was west. My first house was east of Lincoln and the house where I now live is west of Lincoln,” Marcellus, 59, continued, adding that his three daughters attended schools both east and west of the major thoroughfare.
“I only have one question for the commission: how many communities have I lived in my entire life?” Marcellus asked. “One.”
The LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce and the Venice Chamber of Commerce sent a joint letter to the commission protesting the map.
“Our chambers collectively represent over 850 businesses and more than 40,000 jobs, covering an area of common interest located within the existing boundaries of Council District 11,” LAX chamber President and CEO Christina Davis wrote.
“We hope that the redistricting commission takes into consideration the comments it will receive during the upcoming regional meetings and addresses the requirements our city charter requires when drawing our new council districts.”
On Feb. 7, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa joined the chorus of voices against the redistricting plan by sending the commissioners a letter stating its objections.
Rosendahl entered the gymnasium to a boisterous and sustained ovation, where he stopped several times along the way to accept handshakes and hugs from the crowd before addressing the commission.
The councilman brandished several pages of signatures from an online petition that his office began after learning of the draft map, indicating that there were over 2,300 at the time of the meeting.
“By the time this night is over, the commission better realize that Westchester is speaking for itself,” the councilman told the commissioners.
Councilman Eric Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry also asked the commission to bring Westchester back to their colleague’s district.
Rob Kadota, a Mar Vista resident who was appointed by Rosendahl to the commission, said the commissioners did not have the option of moving a portion of the Westside neighborhood of Palms into another district at the time that the map was released, which created the need to move Westchester out of Rosendahl’s legislative district.
“Now that we have the full map to look at, moving Palms to another council district would make Council District 11 what it ought to be,” he said.
When asked if the commission would consider that proposition, Kadota, the former chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, replied, “I will make that motion as a natural boundary.”
Vargas, one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees, said moving Westchester was unintentional.
“If you move something into one district, something needs to be moved out. This is the jigsaw puzzle that we’re playing with and trying to make all the pieces fit,” he explained in an interview with The Argonaut before the meeting began. “And because of the process that we used to draw the draft map, something got moved into the 11th and something needed to be moved out to equalize the population, and the only place to be moved was Westchester.
“That was inadvertent, and I know that’s one of the corrections that we’re very interested in correcting.”
Vargas was booed when he stated that the removal of Westchester was inadvertent during the hearing.
Earlier that day, Rosendahl and Parks held a joint press conference next to the Westchester Skate Plaza to take questions about the redistricting plan and to reiterate their opposition to it.
In an interview with The Argonaut prior to speaking at the press conference, Parks urged the press to make inquires into two areas that he believes are crucially important to the controversial new map alignment.
“The commission has held 15 meetings and not one Westchester resident or business showed up and said, ‘move us to the Eighth District,’ and not one Eighth District business or resident has shown up and said, ‘can we take over Westchester,’” he noted.
The Eighth District councilman also wants to know who actually designed the maps. “These maps completely revamp the city of Los Angeles,” he said. “My staff has been asking who created the maps? How did they come about if they don’t mirror what the community asked for?”
Parks touched on the same areas of concern at the community meeting.
“This is an insult to democracy at its best,” Rosendahl told the crowd at the press conference. “Westchester, Playa del Rey and Playa Vista need to stay intact and be treated as one large community interest.
“They share a chamber of commerce, a neighborhood council and a committee plan area.”
Vargas, who worked on the last council redistricting commission 10 years ago, said inserting Westchester back into the 11th District is a distinct possibility.
“Of all the changes that will happen, that is probably one of the (changes) that is most likely,” he said.
Rosendahl’s district still needs to lose some population, Vargas cautioned, and so a return to what the district looked like at the beginning of the process may not be possible.
“Again, we’re talking about equal population and the 11th District needs to lose some population, and we still need to see where that makes sense,” Vargas cautioned. “But we understand that Westchester is a community that needs to be kept whole.”
The City Council has the final approval of the new boundaries.