Redistricting in the City of Los Angeles is handled by a commission whose members are appointed by municipal elected officials. Presumably the commissioners are expected to be somewhat fair and independent, or at least to appear so,1 but as you can imagine the process is deeply corrupt. It’s at least plausible that if the commissioners carried out their work via an adversarial process the result wouldn’t be precisely tailored to the idiosyncratic interests of the electeds who appointed them, but in practice, as you can imagine, this doesn’t happen.
Everyone involved, from commissioners to electeds, has an overriding interest in helping their colleagues attain their individual goals so that they’ll get the same consideration in return. The one rule that might prevent absolute coordination between the commissioners and the electeds who appointed them is the ban on ex parte communications. However, some emails I recently obtained show that even this regulation is easily evaded.
Last September unlamentedly former CD4 repster David Ryu appointed former CD13 rep Mike Woo to the Commission. On September 29, 2020 Woo emailed Ryu’s also-now-former Chief of Staff Nick Greif with a draft statement for some required form. But most interesting was Woo’s postscript:
But, as the whole world knows, Nithya Raman quite handily kicked David Ryu’s metaphorical ass at the November election which, among other things, unhatched Woo’s already-counted Commission-involved chickens. After Ryu conceded Woo emailed Raman tendering his resignation but, at the same time, making it clear that he was willing to continue to serve and also giving her some (astonishingly man-splainy, by the way) reasons for choosing him:
Congratulations on your victory in the City Council election.
I am writing to inform you that I will resign from the City Redistricting Commission to which Councilmember Ryu appointed me. The first meeting of the Commission is scheduled for November 19. Although you will not be officially sworn in by that date, it is entirely reasonable for you to appoint your own designee to the Commission.
Based upon my own experience especially in the 1986 special redistricting that twice radically shifted the lines of my district, the work of redrawing Council District lines can be very complicated and fraught with challenges. After I defeated an incumbent Councilmember, the Council majority chose to achieve the stated goal of adding a new “Hispanic-majority” district by eliminating the district from which I had been elected. Were it not for a Mayoral veto and the unexpected demise of one of the Councilmembers, I would have ended up representing a constituency that diverged sharply from the electorate that brought me into public office. Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about my own experience in redistricting.
Note what Woo doesn’t talk about. Nothing, e.g., about the interests of Angelenos. He’s concerned with district demographics because if that changes too drastically it may hurt the incumbent. But the interests of the incumbent as an incumbent2 may well, probably are, adverse to the interest of the public.
It’s easy to imagine how busy Raman would have been around this time, and that probably at least partially explains the fact that she didn’t reply for over a week. Also see how cagy! She’s pumping him for information without committing to anything regarding her appointment:
Thank you for reaching out. I apologize for the slow response to this email. I am digging myself out of quite a large hole in terms of incoming emails and texts that have come in during the last 10 days, especially to my personal email address — This email got buried. I’ll reach out to David Ryu’s office to follow up on next steps.
I have read about some of the challenges you faced with redistricting and your district. Do you have advice or guiding principles I should be thinking about as I make a selection of an appointee on the commission? I came into this campaign with a focus on equity and justice, and would like to ensure that any redistricting of the councils [sic] was in line with moving L.A. governance more in that direction!
Woo, surely not nearly as busy as Raman at that time, replied a day later with a lot of advice! And reiterated his plan for evading the ban on ex parte communication! And a lot more mansplaining about how justice and equity have no place whatsoever in the redistricting process! Would this mansplaination, as he clearly was hoping it would, overcome her natural disinclination to have anything whatsoever to do with Ryu’s cronies? Keep reading, of course, and here’s Woo’s pitch:
I can just imagine the inundation of your email and text inboxes and am sorry to add to the burden.
Responding to your request for advice or guiding principles for selection of an appointee to the Redistricting Commission, here are some thoughts:
- The redistricting process is about much more than the drawing of lines. The process will define the constituency that you will be representing which could turn out to be very different than the district that elected you. Citywide, the redistricting will directly affect the allocation of City resources (and which parts of the City get better or worse service and more or fewer resources).
- You need to start the process by identifying and ordering your redistricting priorities: which parts or features of your district are important to keep, which parts or features of your district would you be willing to give up.
- Because political self-interest is the dominating factor in redistricting, there is considerable risk of treachery. You can’t really trust any of the other participants unless you understand their self-interest. Equity and justice are typically not factors in redistricting except to the extent that Federal civil rights statutes protect representation of certain “classes.”
- You need to find allies among the other Councilmembers (especially the Council President and the Councilmember who chairs or will chair a Redistricting Committee). Not sure whether the Council President has appointed a Councilmember to chair a Redistricting Committee.
- Demographic data is the coin of the redistricting process. Typically the Council President and/or the Councilmember who chairs the Council Redistricting Committee control the selection of redistricting consultants including data specialists. Not sure how open or transparent the data analysis and line-drawing will be. You may need to pay for your own data analyst or consultant(s) who will be accountable to you.
- There probably will be formal rules restricting ex parte communication between the Councilmember and her designee for the Redistricting Commission. Therefore, you need to choose an appointee who will clearly understand your redistricting priorities from the outset and who can function effectively within the Redistricting Commission without a lot of private feedback from or interaction with you.
As we know now, of course, Woo couldn’t convince Raman, who tossed him in favor of Alexandra Suh. In her appointment letter Raman emphasizes, contrary to Woo’s theories, Suh’s “twenty years’ experience in social justice work.” My feeling is that Woo’s probably right and there’s no place for social justice on the redistricting commission. I could be wrong, I hope I’m wrong, and, whether or not I’m wrong, someday there may well be a place for it there. If that’s going to happen perhaps this is how it starts?