This is the first segment of a two-part series about Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, redistricting and South Los Angeles.
Chalk it up to redistricting, but L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry's name has made a lot of headlines recently – and she's usually not happy.
Redistricting, which occurs every 10 years, is the process in which city district boundaries are redrawn to reflect changes in population. A 21-member commission representing the council was created to do the actual redrawing, but if you ask Perry, the process has been a disaster.
Take last November, for example, where she resigned from her post as council president pro tem out of "disgust" for a number of reasons – one, because she thought the way current Council President Herb Wesson came to power was shady and, two, because she thought the lines for the council's 15 districts were already being redrawn in secret, even though the commission was supposed to do that publicly.
"In recent months, I have felt that we have drifted away from the kind of openness and frank discussion that has characterized this council," she wrote in a letter to her colleagues. Later, she told KNX 1070, "I have a mouth. It doesn't need to be shut. I have a First Amendment right to express my disagreement, my disbelief, my disgust with the way that things are going."
And she has. Once the commission had released a draft of a map showing the new proposed boundaries in January, Perry called it "old-school patronage politics, which is 'I'm going to punish you and take away your assets and then nobody will pay any attention to you or you won't be able to get anything done.'"
Her district, Council District 9, formerly included parts of downtown and South L.A., and the new maps give most of her part of downtown to Councilman José Huizar. She and her supporters have long pointed out that without downtown, her district lacks an economic engine.
This isn't behind anyone's back – on March 6 she sent out a campaign email accusing Wesson and Huizar of corruption, suggesting that Huizar was not fit to lead his district and saying that the commission redrew districts "to fulfill the political agenda of city hall insiders, special interests and future candidates for public office," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Herself a mayoral candidate, Perry bitingly apologized to Wesson once the new maps had been finalized. "I feel your wrath," she told him. "I feel your power. And I want to tell you publicly, Mr. President, I regret not voting for you and I am sorry."
Wesson, for his part, has insisted that he "has not manipulated the system," calling it "a stretch at best to suggest that one man, 5'5", 115 pounds" could influence a commission.
In an interview with OnCentral, Perry said she was "shocked" at how the redistricting process went.
"It leaves the people of South L.A. behind," she said. "And that's a frightening concept, because it has been very difficult for the last 10 years to bring commercial and retail development into South L.A." Perry has been the Ninth's councilwoman since 2001, and she'll hit her term limit next year. She pointed to the fact that, with the new maps, nearly all of her constituents make $16,000 or less yearly.
The above map of the final proposal for Council District 9's boundaries indicates that most of its residents make less than $16,000 a year. (Credit: The Office of Jan Perry)
"It's an ignoring thing," she added. "I saw that when [Councilman Bernard Parks of the Eighth District] and I so clearly and definitively explained how important it was to keep an economic engine tied to South L.A. – and every word fell on deaf ears. It was pretty stunning, because it's almost like South L.A. is not real to 13 members of the City Council. Or perhaps they don't feel the lives in that part of the city affect them, so they don't really need to see them or feel them or understand them."
Perry said her presentation throughout the redistricting process was "grounded in substance, logic [and] facts," as well as a community that was highly mobilized. Unless Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vetoes the maps, she said, or unless she takes legal action that stops the implementation of the maps, the maps as they've been redrawn are the maps as they'll look for the next 10 years. "So [the Ninth] is truly a district that's poverty-stricken," she said.
Perry said she asked Villaraigosa several weeks ago if he'd consider vetoing the maps. At that point, he said no. If he ends up approving the maps as they are in mid-May, said Perry, "then it would be time to consider legal action."
"At the end of the day, the process was basically a sham," she said. "Agreements were reached before the commission was even established by the council president and the council representatives who got what they wanted early on." That's why she stepped down from her president pro tem position in November, she added. She felt it would be hypocritical to criticize a system she was a part of.
In a different vote, Perry implored her fellow council members to either vote one of her measures up or down, and not to stall it or send it somewhere to die.
"[I said to them], be a man about it and vote," she recalled. "And [Richard Alarcón of the Seventh District] jumped up and started yelling at me, and said 'This is politics. This is the way it is. Sometimes people win, sometimes people lose.' But my feeling is we're affecting people's lives. So it's not a game. And we cannot leave people behind, especially when we know the ramifications of our decisions. It's very serious."
In Part 2: Perry talks to OnCentral about the outlook for South Los Angeles in wake of a disheartening redistricting process.