Stakeholders and business owners of Los Angeles' Ninth District gathered at Councilwoman Jan Perry's field office on Central Avenue Tuesday night to discuss how the current redistricting of Los Angeles will affect them and the surrounding community.
In what was referred to as an emergency meeting, the Central Avenue Business Association (CABA) hosted Hugo Ortiz, a field director for Perry, to explain the changes that could be at hand.
"Overall, the message from our office is that this will make us one of the poorest districts in L.A.," he said. "I guarantee you that."
This year's redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years to adjust district boundaries to account for changes in the population, has been controversial from the start. The proposed redistricting maps released by the city's Redistricting Commission on January 25 were met with heavy criticism by council members and constituents alike -- Perry called it "economic apartheid" , as the proposed maps take much of downtown (and its wealth) out of her Ninth District.
Ortiz explained that as it stands, the Ninth District will lose its northern part that includes the Civic Center, the Figueroa Corridor, Skid Row and the Arts District, while its southern border will shift town toward Watts, gaining three other housing projects.
"We have nothing against the housing projects," said Ortiz, "but without the economic engine [that downtown provides], the councilwoman doesn't believe the district could work in the manner.
Greg Cowan, a local business owner, said that what had taken place in the map-drafting process was nothing short of gerrymandering. "This goes back to the old civil rights movement," he said. "This is about maintaining power. [We'll] wind up with all the projects -- let's just be real about it. Then you just become the dumping ground." He described the situation using Perry's "economic apartheid" phase, saying he's seen this Montgomery, Atlanta and Baltimore.
"Every district has some source of economic engine," said Ortiz, pointing to Los Angeles International Airport in District 11 as an example. "If this goes through, you're going to create a district that has no economic engine." In terms of how it affects residents, Ortiz elaborated in more concrete terms. "You have a lot of tax increments that come from Downtown L.A. that are not generated within this area," he said. "There's a lot of job development that's occurring downtown that's not coming from this area." He also said many of the improvements along Central Avenue happened because of resources that originated in downtown.
"You need downtown," he said. "That's the bottom line."
It was a bottom line that meeting attendees seemed to understand. Vivian Bowers, president of CABA, said that should the map as it stands get approved, District 9's prospects would be "pretty dismal." "Ours would remain the poorest district in the city in the history of the city," she said. "People will look back to where we were 10 years ago, and you can see the marked difference. We don't want to go back there."
Ortiz echoed Bowers. "There are a lot of improvements in the [South L.A.] area that have occurred because [Perry] has learned to leverage the resources of Downtown L.A.," he said. "She hasn't fixed everything, but it's going to get worse."
Azusena Favela, a program manager at Community Development Technology Centers, looked to future political implications, and said that a council member "who's basically representing a group of black and brown folks" won't hold much sway on the City Council. "We become that district that's just 100 percent, 99 percent African-American and Latino," she said.
A redistricting hearing for Council Districts 1, 9 and 14, where constituents can comment before the Redistricting Commission on the proposed maps, will take place Wednesday, February 8 at 6:30 p.m in City Hall. Ortiz also mentioned that the final hearing, for South L.A., will take place on Saturday, February 11 at 11 a.m. at West Angeles Church of God in Christ on Crenshaw Boulevard. He said both hearings are relevant to communities within District 9. The Redistricting Commission has provided more information and ways to provide feedback on its website.
Jorge Nuño, the president of The NTS Creative Group on East 35th Street, indicated keeping District 9 as it is would be a hard battle. "We have to ask for the world to at least keep what we have."