Every 10 years, a very important political process called redistricting takes place throughout the country. Following new demographic data from each census, districts must be changed to reflect population changes so that all districts are the same size, about 250,000 people in each. Currently, there are 15 council districts (CDs) sprawled as far west as Woodland Hills and as far south as San Pedro.
Thanks to political corruption and secret line-drawing behind closed doors during the 2011-2012 redistricting process, the people of Koreatown (K-town) are being played like pawns for the city council members’ political gain game.
For the past 20 years, K-town, one of the most densely populated and diverse areas of L.A., has been carved up by legislators, denying K-town and the surrounding Asian Pacific Islander community a chance for stronger political power. Located smack in the middle of L.A., the area has no unique geographic borders to distinguish its perimeter, and due to its mostly immigrant and largely non-English speaking population, has been vulnerable to irresponsible politicians.
Korean-American activists thought that this time around, they would have their chance for fair representation. Much to their indignation, most of K-town is being drawn inside CD-10, capping off the enourmous South L.A. region like the head of a ridiculous turkey.
Until the passage of Proposition 11 in 2008, California legislators carved up the county any way they wanted. For the last 10 years, K-town has been split up into four CDs (CD-10, CD-13, CD-4 and CD-1), which allowed four different council members to fragment the voices of one community.
According to Hyepin Im, president and chief executive of Korean Churches for Community Development, the Commission heavily relied on neighborhood councils in establishing districts according to community needs.
“…The Koreatown community united behind the boundaries of the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC),” said Im. “Which is also the same as the White House’s ‘Preserve America’ boundaries for Koreatown.”
Even members of the City Council have cried of foul play.
“The Redistricting Commission has been a farce from day one, intended only to give the illusion that the public had any say in the process,” wrote Councilman Bernard Parks, for the online publication, Intersections South LA.
“Councilwoman Perry first rang the alarm bell in November, when she resigned from her council leadership post in protest of the secret discussions and backroom deals taking place among council members over district boundaries and the election of the next council president.”
Parks and Perry are the only members of the city council willing to publicly voice the corruption they see within the redistricting process and criticize a fellow African-American council member, Herb Wesson. Wesson, who has for the last ten years represented CD-10 – which included most of K-town – will no longer enjoy the quiet and financially steep support he has been receiving from the community, since he’s been treating it like an ATM machine.
“Last year, one-third of his fundraising came from Koreans when Koreans represent less than 10 percent of the district,” said Im. “The business corridor has been the primary interest for [his] fundraising purpose.”
According to an L.A. Times analysis, Wesson received over $84,000 last year from Korean donors alone, although he has not addressed K-town’s major needs.
“We have a high poverty rate and are in need of various services from affordable housing to senior centers and youth centers,” said Im. “The Koreatown residents are multi-ethnic and yet our needs and interests are marginalized.”
Keeping all of K-town in CD-13 rather than any other district is crucial to avoid having its political voice diluted.
“By being placed in CD-10, as currently configured in the Commission’s draft map, Asian Americans represent only 9.2% of CD-10’s registered voters, while African Americans are over 50% of CD-10’s registered voters, thereby making Asian Americans a “captive minority” in CD-10 with no ability to elect a candidate of their choice or to influence any election,” wrote Helen B. Kim,LA City Council Redistricting Commissioner, in a document outlining reasons to keep K-town in CD-13.
“In contrast, placing WCKNC whole in CD-13 would create an Asian influence district in CD-13.”
Kim wrote that maps submitted by the API community, including the one submitted by Grace Yoo from the Korean American Coalition, would create an Asian influence district with Asian citizen voting age populations (CVAP) ranging from 31% to 36%. In that way, CD-13 would become a “coalition district” with Latinos and whites having similar CVAPs.
“Many Koreatown residents feel that its residential community has far more in common with the needs of other high-immigrant, LEP communities, such as Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town, which are in CD-13. The communities that comprise CD-10 do not share these special language needs or characteristics.”
Since the last public hearing before the city council last Wednesday, council members Perry and Parks have submitted a map amendment that honors K-town’s desire to be kept whole in 13th district, according to Im. If the council does not amend their mapping plans, the K-town community will advocate to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to veto current plans, and listen to the newly politicized community of K-town.