The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which held meetings in Los Angeles City Hall last Thursday and in the Antelope Valley on Sunday, has a mandate is to redraw district lines, not to disrupt communities but to strengthen them. But how does the Commission accomplish its task when most community spokespersons appeared to be asking the body to maintain the status quo and keep their communities intact?

In an hour and a half–the hearings actually lasted much longer–there was never a suggestion that the Commission lop off a disagreeable portion of a district.

Could it be that the communities and the Commission are working at cross purposes?

The Commission states in it’s explanatory brochure that “speaking about your community is critical to ensuring district lines are drawn to keep your community whole and grouped with nearby communities with similar interests. That ensures that your voice is heard by your elected leaders in such decisions as the quality of your child’s schools or how high your taxes are.”

Still, the 14-member body is required to draw maps for 53 congressional districts, 40 state Senate districts, 80 state Assembly districts, and four Board of Equalization districts. The districts must have equal populations, comply with the Voting Rights Act (to ensure minority voters have an equal opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice), draw districts that are contiguous, respect counties, cities, communities of interest and neighborhoods, make districts compact and meet other requirements.

The Commission was created by California voters. An earlier round of hearings was completed in Northern and Central California on April 16.

It is a cinch that one or more of these requirements will force to Commission to change most districts, and some seats will be lost.

The speakers were invariably polite, well-prepared, knowledgeable and well-spoken, and the advocates for the Black community–about a third of the packed meeting room in City Hall–were generally well-represented. There were speakers from various ethnic groups, including Caucasian, Hispanic, Thai, Armenian and others. Most, if not all speakers, represented community organizations.

Bobbie Jean Anderson, told the commission that she believes, “the cities between Watts, South L.A., West Adams and Harvard Heights are directly linked and should be grouped together.
“In our communities we love our churches, parks and we love our kids,” she said. “The Weingart Family YMCA attracts people from all of our communities. It is important because it gives our kids a safe place to be active and healthy.”

She thanked the commission for the opportunity to “testify and give input about why it is important to keep this community intact…”

Rosie Lee Hooks, director of the Watts Towers Art Center, told the commission she wanted to keep the Watts community whole.

Hooks reminded the body that at one point Watts had been a thriving hub when plants like BF Goodrich and Boeing supplied jobs decades ago, “but since those businesses have gone, the community has suffered.” In spite of the hard times the community has faced, it was still vibrant culturally, she said.

She also reminded the panel that the community is very important strategically and geographically because it is at the junction of freeways that lead to the harbor. “We are not receiving our fair share of monies because of the economics of the community,” she said. “We don’t want to be broken up and discarded.”

Keith Claiborne, who worked with Project Build, a program Cong. Maxine Waters fought for to target the hard-core unemployed in the Watts area, began by saying that although he didn’t live in area he had worked there and had strong ties to the community.

A Yale graduate who grew up in View Park, Claiborne was Project Build’s assistant director of counseling and job placement for a year and a half in the mid-1980s before heading to Harvard to study urban economic development at the Kennedy School of Government.

Claiborne said he is concerned that due to “an undercount” the three congressional districts that serve the community that includes Watts “may be conflated into two” and that either Waters or Cong. Laura Richardson might be threatened.

“The future of fair and equal political representation for South Los Angeles is at stake in the redistricting process,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition. “We want to ensure that the current multiracial composition of our state Assembly, Senate and congressional districts remains intact.

“Also as an organization that has spent many years building a strong Black-and-Brown coalition to advance the common interest of our diverse communities, we need to ensure that segments of our communities are not pitted against one another in the redistricting process. That is why it is vital for us to have a strong and strategic voice in this process.”