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July 20, 2011

Updated: Pico-Robertson and Valley Village Each Face Splitting in California Redistricting

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/redistricting_could_split_two_la_orthodox_jewish_neighborhoods_in_half_20/

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A line running along Pico Boulevard could divide Pico/Robertson into two separate Assembly Districts. Orthodox leaders worry that this division could make it harder for their community to have its concerns addressed by elected officials.

New Congressional and State Assembly district maps released this week by California’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission show that the panel is considering lines that divide two neighborhoods that are home to many of Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish residents.

In a working draft map—called a visualization map—dated July 17 and released sometime in the last 24 hours, the commission’s line-drawers sketched out Assembly district boundaries that divide Pico-Robertson down the middle of Pico Boulevard.

On the other side of the hills, a visualization map of Los Angeles Congressional districts dated July 18 would split another neighborhood with many Orthodox Jewish residents, Valley Village, into two districts, by drawing a line down the middle of Colfax Avenue.

Unlike many Jewish leaders who have chosen not to lobby the commission, representatives of the Orthodox community have made attempts to urge the commission to recognize theirs as a “community of interest.” Specifically, Orthodox Jews have asked the commission to unite three neighborhoods—Pico-Robertson/Beverlywood, Hancock Park and the area around the intersection of Beverly and Fairfax—into single Congressional, State Assembly and Senate Districts.

The current boundaries, drawn in 2001 based on data gathered in the previous year’s census, have for the last 10 years kept these three neighborhoods in separate political tracts, at all levels of government. The new lines, which are being revised frequently and with little warning, leave that fragmentation of the Orthodox community in place.

“For decades, our community has been used as a buffer or point of exchange between two districts,” Dr. Irving Lebovics, chairman of the Orthodox Agudath Israel of California, wrote in an email to the commission on July 14. “This has affected our ability to get support for our social service programs and other needs that are unique to or community.

“We respectfully ask that you keep our communities together so we can make sure our voice is heard too,” Lebovics wrote.

Lebovics is one of a core group of four Orthodox community leaders who have been monitoring the work of the commission. Their task has been made more difficult by the commission’s decision earlier this month to scrap a vote on its second draft and release the maps as visualization maps instead. That decision brought with it a degree of uncertainty that led Orthodox community leaders to wait before weighing in.

“The reason why we didn’t do this up until now is because it’s been such a moving target,” Rabbi Meyer H. May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance said of the maps released by the commission. “As we see the results of their efforts, we’re even more unhappy with what’s being discussed.”

May noted that the proposed line down the center of Pico Boulevard would divide the Wiesenthal Center’s two properties into two separate assembly districts, but his main concern was how the commission appeared to be fragmenting the Orthodox community, thereby diminishing its political voice.

“It’s just an irresponsible way of dividing the Jewish community,” May said. “There’s so many different calculuses [the commission] could use but obviously the Jewish community is not a high priority and its concerns are not a high priority for them.”

May said he was composing a letter to the commission expressing his dismay at the current lines, and Lebovics said that May wouldn’t be the only one whose voice the commission would hear in the coming days. “What we’re going to be doing in the next day or so,” Lebovics said on July 20, “is try to get an email campaign from people in the Pico-Robertson area and Beverlywood to write in and say ‘You’ve split us in half and that’s really not a good thing.’”

Their efforts might come too late. According to Douglas Johnson, president of National Demographics Corp., July 20 was the last day for the commissioners to offer directions to the line-drawers that would significantly change the boundaries of the proposed lines.

The Orthodox leaders are focusing their attention on the proposed Assembly district lines, but other political divisions of Jewish communities look likely.

In Valley Village, another area with a large Orthodox Jewish population, neighborhood groups are protesting the political lines that could divide Valley Village between two Congressional Districts.

Speaking to Patch North Hollywood, Tony Braswell, president of Neighborhood Council Valley Village (NCVV), said his group was alarmed at the proposed division of Valley Village between two congressional districts.

“On behalf of our 25,000 stakeholders we have appealed to the Citizens Redistricting Commission to adhere to their stated criteria that ‘Districts must respect the boundaries of cities, counties, neighborhood and communities of interest and minimize their division…’” Braswell told Patch. “Redrawing the southern Valley Village boundary to follow [t]he 170 freeway adheres to this criteria and keeps Valley Village in one congressional district.”

If the visualization drawings hold, Valley Village would be split into two Congressional districts, one of which will, for the first time, have a Latino majority. The other proposed district, which includes large sections of the West San Fernando Valley, has a voter base that is mostly white.

A recent Congressional District Boundary proposed by the Citizens Redistricting Commission would divide Valley Village in half.

As reported in The Journal, two Jewish Democratic Congressmen, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, have both said they intend to run for reelection in that West San Fernando Valley district.

Andrew Lachman, a member of the Democratic National Committee who is active in neighborhood and Jewish community organizations, has been following the redistricting process very closely. This is, in part, because he is a declared candidate for State Assembly and does not yet know the boundaries of the district he’ll try to run in. (Those boundaries could also determine who his opponents will be.)

But Lachman, who hasbeen working with Lebovics and May, said he worries that the provisional lines being considered by the commission could diminish the degree to which Jewish community members have their needs addressed.

“As someone who works a lot with the Jewish community, I want to make sure the Jewish community continues to have a voice, and that that voice doesn’t get diluted,” Lachman said.

Final lines are expected to be unveiled on July 28, and could be voted on that day. They must be approved by a supermajority of the commissioners by Aug. 15.

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