February 7, 2002
A Map Is a Mirror
No one said redistricting is fun. But this once-a-decade political ritual does provide a mirror to how much leverage a community has, or lacks.
In the case of the proposed map for the Los Angeles City Council, this time the mirror says what many in our community are still reluctant to admit: That Jewish action has shifted to the San Fernando Valley.
We should have caught on long ago, but "city Jew" is still one of the great myths that dies hard. In 1992, the Westside seat then represented by Congressman Mel Levine merged with Long Beach, for a loss of one of three Jewish seats in the House of Representatives.
Perhaps now, with the potential loss of one of three Westside seats in City Hall and the creation of a new seat in the central/eastern Valley, it is finally time to take seriously the dominance of Jewish life over the hill.
It's not that Jews are declining on the Westside -- Jews still represent 10 percent of total city population, as well as 30 percent of the registered voters citywide. But the latest census is historic for declaring that the Westward expansion, which began in 1918 when Jews first left Boyle Heights to start Mishkon Tephilo on Main Street in Venice, has been outpaced by the northwest drift.
In a city of explosive ethnic growth, and competing geographic interests, not growing isn't good enough. Gone forever are the days when Jewish representatives occupied seven of 15 council seats.
That's why the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission merged Districts 6 and 11, now represented by, respectively, Ruth Galanter and Cindy Miscikowski.
And, of course, it hurts. Every redistricting session is a shark fight, a search for meat. This time, sadly, it looks like Galanter, who was on the wrong side of the battle in which Alex Padilla became council president, is vulnerable.
(Her loss is not a foregone conclusion. She's fighting the peculiarities of redistricting, by which Galanter serves out her remaining year by representing the new Valley district, people who did not vote for her.)
But Galanter aside, the Westside and the Valley must come to terms with changing Los Angeles realities. Any new Valley city would be predominantly both Jewish and Latino. These two groups are the lynchpin of secession: they will provide the "yes" or "no" upon which the new city will rise or fall.
In the new Los Angeles map, Latinos will comprise fully 47 percent of the registered voters in five districts, all in the Valley or the East side.
The Jewish population in the Valley is the future -- it has grown 25 percent over two decades.
The new as yet unnumbered district "B," includes Encino, Valley Glen, North Hollywood and all non-Latinos east to Tujunga. The creation of this new Valley seat silenced even those on the Westside who most wanted to cry foul.
In conversations with Westside activists this week, I heard a reluctance to accuse the commission of ethnic bad faith: one and all are coming to terms with demographic reality, much as it hurts.
The character of this new "Jewish district" is unclear. It went sizably for Jimmy Hahn for mayor, but so did much of the Jewish vote. And it voted for Mike Feuer for city attorney (against the winner, Rocky Delgadillo) in almost the same majority as did voters in the combined District 11-6.
I don't necessarily recommend reading the proposed map instead of watching reruns of "The Sopranos," but there is a certain symmetry to the way the commission accomplished its task.
Raphael Sonenschein, an expert in Los Angeles black-Jewish relations, headed the city charter commission the set the tone for the remapping process. He tells me that the charter added the requirement that wherever possible neighborhood boundaries must be respected.
"That's the biggest change," he said. "Place and race matter."
"Place and race" means that most districts are either in the city or the Valley, no longer the long strips that crossing Mulholland that made the Valley feel ignored. As a result, the new map mirrors the current Jewish political reality: that the Jewish community is now a collection of communities. We live in neighborhoods and feel connected to each other.
Ron Turovsky represented Councilmember Jack Weiss on the redistricting panel.
"Time and again we heard Jewish representatives talk about the importance of the community staying together," Turovsky told me.
As a result, District 5 has what might be called an enhanced Jewish presence, with the addition of Carthay Circle as well as Westwood, Pico-Robertson and Beverlywood.
In the newly merged 11-6, Galanter's Venice Jewish community once made me think of New York's Greenwich Village, with its left-radical leanings. Today, it seems an even fit with Miscikowski's District 11, the silk-stocking elite.
Time changes many things.
The Redistricting Commission holds public hearings this Monday Feb. 11 in Woodland Hills and Wednesday in West Los Angeles. For information visit www.lacitydistricts.org; call the hotline: (213) 473-4595; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .