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  • The Redrawing of District 2 Is at the Heart of the County’s Redistricting Dilemna The Political Power of L.A. County’s Black Residents Hangs in the Balance

The Redrawing of District 2 Is at the Heart of the County’s Redistricting Dilemna The Political Power of L.A. County’s Black Residents Hangs in the Balance

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Lisa Collins

With the already feared potential loss of a black congressional seat as legislative boundaries are being redrawn and Karen Bass makes a run for Mayor, coupled with the recent L.A. City Council battle over key assets in the Ninth District that were once part of the Eighth District, many are beginning to monitor more closely the efforts to draw new L.A. County redistricting maps and how political power—particularly in the African American community—may be shifted or lost because of it.

A 14-member commission has the responsibility of drawing up a new supervisorial map by December 15 with respect to population data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020. Draft maps have been circulated for public review and while it is clearly difficult to please everyone, there are some serious concerns relative to political participation, particularly given that the Black population in Los Angeles has —with their migration to outlying areas like the Inland Empire, Victorville and Lancaster/Palmdale—become as diluted as their decreasing political numbers.

At risk is the political power Blacks have been able to wield in the Second District, which has been home to the majority of L.A. County’s African American population for decades and is now represented by Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell.

Three of the maps would have a major impact on the voting clout of Black Angelenos in the second district. One would merge some Southeast L.A. communities (including Downey, South Gate and Lynwood) into South L.A. and yet another map option (Map G) would expand the district to include some of county’s mostly white beach communities. 

Neither would be optimal for the district’s Black residents with one option tilting political power toward Hispanics and another opening the door to the possibility of whites playing a key role in the second district’s political representation with a very different perspective on the needs of those living in what was once the heart of the district—South Los Angeles.

“What’s most at stake depends on how the lines are drawn in District 2 which has been an historically African American seat,” said Pastor Edward Anderson of the McCarty Memorial Christian Church who also serves as the South L.A. Regional Community Organizer for L.A. Voice, a multi-faith community organization.  “It can either be changed drastically, which we see in map B1 or it could stay relatively the same as we see in map F1, or it could expand a little bit as we see in Map G, but all of this comes down to making sure that the citizen voting age population (CVAP) is represented in equitable numbers to make sure that we have an opportunity to select our candidate of choice.”

Generating the most concern was Map B, which would bring parts of Southeast L.A. into South L.A. leaving Hispanic advocates to bemoan the potential loss of political capital they’ve already built in District 1 and having to compete for power in a district long viewed as a black political stronghold. 

Blacks, on the other hand, are concerned with having to share power with a Hispanic voting base that has been increasing in numbers and —due to the demographic shifts in the district— could easily overwhelm them politically. 

It is the numbers that tell the whole story. If Map B were to be adopted as is, the Latino voting age population in District 2 would rise to 54%, while the Black CVAP would only be 26%. It is an equation many fear threatens future black leadership in the district.

South L.A. resident Isabel Gonzalez was among those urging the commission to reject Map B in during a recent public hearing, citing an unbalanced representation that negatively impacts Black LA residents.

“As of today, Black residents continue to have the lowest vaccination rates followed by Latino residents,” she said. “Proper representation of both communities is not only fair but necessary to address the ongoing and forthcoming challenges that COVID-19 continues to elevate. Map B prevents us from proper representation of both communities and without proper representation how can we guarantee that we’re doing the best to serve the needs of all of our residents.”

South L.A. resident Ebony Abram was also against packing the Black community in South L.A. and the Latinx community in Southeast L.A. into one district, stating that it reduced the ability on the part of Blacks “to have more representation at the county level.”

“It would dilute the voices of historically oppressed communities and give us less chances of true representation”, Abram observed.

The future of Carson also hangs in the balance as two of the maps would take Carson out of District 2, a move Carson Councilman Jawane Hilton stands in firm opposition to. 

Says Hilton, “First of all, these maps separate communities of interest and they would put Carson in the Fourth District opposed to the second district, and if we got into the 4th District, I believe we would be in the back end and not be able to get the resources we need. And because Carson has a large black voting base, removing it from District 2 would take the black voting population down and there would be no way for a black person to ever be elected to the second district again.”

In a formal letter to the commission, Hilton stressed his opposition to both to Map B and Map G, writing, “Map G pairs South L.A. with the coastal communities and drops the Black Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) down to 26.2% as opposed to the map submitted [Map F] that kept it at 30%. These communities also have very different issues and if paired together will dilute the voices of the Black community in District 2…

“My desire is for our city to remain together as one united Carson community within Los Angeles County under District 2 as [I]strongly oppose the splitting of our residents into separate jurisdictions of any kind.”

For Kirk Samuels, who works with the Community Coalition and has been engaged in the process, Map F is the preferred option.

  “It keeps Supervisorial District 2 with a Black CVAP of 30% which is important for us given that black representation in Los Angeles is being diminished and we see an erasure of black folks especially when we look at the Census undercount,” Samuels noted. “We want to make sure that the Black community has a viable chance of electing a candidate of their choice.”

Map F would keep the Black CVAP within seven percentage points of the Latino CVAP at 37%.

“When you look at the election numbers from ten years ago, we can get an idea of how many folks need to be in a certain district so that they can elect the candidate of their choice and we want to make sure that it is reflective of the actual population of the district,” Samuels added.

“Map F will keep District 2 a Black-influenced district though we do believe there are some adjustments that need to be made. We will be submitting our recommendations to the commission and hopefully the commission will honor them.” 

For the first time in L.A. County history, the supervisors have no say in the redrawing of the maps that will determine their own political boundaries. Instead that task falls to the L.A. County Citizens Redistricting Commission. 

For the commission—comprised of seven Democrats, three Republicans and four who are either independent of party affiliation or affiliated with other political parties—it is a matter of basic math. L.A. County’s population of ten million has to be divided equally among the five supervisorial districts to maintain two million in each, but with the stipulation that the districts be drawn to minimize the division of cities, neighborhoods, or communities of interest. However, shifting demographics in a county that boasts the nation’s largest Hispanic population of any county in the nation at 48%, means some communities may come up short and the challenge for the commission is to map it so that everyone gets a piece of the county’s political representation pie.

For former State Senator turned consultant Rod Wright, it’s a matter of numbers as well. 

“We, as Black people, have a challenge particularly in the Los Angeles area in that our population is dropping,” Wright said. “Areas that were traditionally black are becoming brown and white. Even in my last term in the Senate my district was not anywhere near majority Black. 

“The problem is that we’re shedding black people,” he continued. “The price of a piece of dirt in much of Los Angeles is just so expensive and so many older black people —between reverse mortgages and other family issues—we’re not holding on to real estate. You go into an area like Baldwin Hills and you’re just watching it become whiter. If you look at areas that were Black twenty years ago, you’ve got Baldwin Hills becoming white and South Central becoming brown. So, you’ve got brown people moving from east to west, white people moving from west to east and Black folks moving out. 

“We’re going to end up having to work in multi-racial coalitions and in some instances our issues may be carried by Latino elected officials. Curren [Price] will be the last black person elected to the city council’s Ninth district seat.  The problem that Holly [Mitchell] has, in part, is that much of her area, in genera,l is losing population and the black part is really down.

“I still believe that with the area— between Inglewood, Culver City, Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills and South Central— that there’s enough still there to keep her elected.”

Advocates, however, believe much of that depends on engagement. Iironically, African Americans who are the most impacted by the process have had the least to say, and while in many cases silence is golden, this is not one of them. 

“The concern,” says Hilton, “is that our community can be asleep at the wheel not knowing how important this is.” 

Even the two black commissioners have been vocal about the lack of participation from Black advocates in South Los Angeles.

“In terms of this commission being a voice for the community, we need to hear from the community,” said L.A. County Redistricting Commission Co-chair Carolyn Williams. “If we don’t hear from you, we’re unable to include that voice. However, we do represent certain communities and our role is to draw maps that include input from communities that provide a fair representation for each of the districts and as much as possible will allow those districts to elect supervisors who understand and can respond to their particular interests.”

Says Anderson, “We are at a critical point when we either hold on to Black voice and vision in the political arena in the county or we can experience dilution and erasure of black voice and values in the creation of a multiracial L.A. County. To ensure a more equitable future, we have to be part of the process. So, it is very important for us to make comment on the maps because it will shape what the next ten years of our voting power will be.”

Upcoming Redistricting Commission meetings—which are held virtually— are scheduled for December 5th at 3:00 p.m.  Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m. PST and Dec. 12, at 3:00 p.m. For more information on how you can join public hearings and or make live public comments, visit https://redistricting.lacounty.gov.


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