LA Council approves a ballot initiative
The City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to start the process of putting a ballot initiative up for voters in Los Angeles in 2024 that would increase the number of council districts.
In reaction to a leaked recording of a 2021 conversation between three council members and a top county labor official that included racial obscenities and suggestions about how to alter district borders for their benefit, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell sponsored the proposal. The rate of population growth in the city would determine the precise number of new seats that are suggested.
Although the population of Los Angeles has increased from 1.2 million in 1929 to 4 million as of this writing, the number of council districts has remained at 15 since 1925.
Only a voter-approved charter amendment can change the number of council seats. If the proposal is adopted by voters, O’Farrell has called for an expedited redistricting procedure.
According to Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, “I think it gives for better flexibility.” And it actually enables smaller districts that won’t appear and be divided in an odd way.
Guerra also urged that the council set restrictions on the number of constituents that each member may represent.
In a statement, O’Farrell said, “I am eager to move forward with this imperative and to present to voters this opportunity to decentralize the power structure in our city.” Even as we work through this difficult time, we took the first step toward more fair, equitable, and accountable representation in Los Angeles today.
City Council candidate Katy Young Yaroslavsky, who is running in the 5th District, told CNS that bigger legislatures don’t always provide better results and that she was looking for evidence to the contrary. She made a reference to Chicago, which has 50 aldermen but “corruption is prevalent there.”
Yaroslavsky is on leave from her position as Sheila Keuhl’s senior policy adviser. Together with her four colleagues, Kuhl represents 2 million citizens.
“I don’t think what was said on the tapes would have altered if Nury Martinez represented 80,000 people instead of 300,000 people,” Yaroslavsky added.
Each council member now represents a varied district, according to Yaroslavsky, and expanding the council’s size would “Balkanize” districts into separate communities. She argued in favor of increased funds so that council districts could keep personnel.
The action taken on Tuesday, according to O’Farrell’s administration, could result in “more representation, an increased number of council seats, and an attendant redistricting process in time for the 2026 elections” in Los Angeles.
Separately, the council decided to start the process of putting a ballot initiative that would establish an independent redistricting commission for both the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District on the ballot in 2024 or earlier.
The council would be expanded along with a new redistricting procedure, according to councilman Paul Krekorian, who was later elected council president.
Expanding the council’s size will also enable the redistricting process to proceed without pitting one town against another, as it currently does, according to Krekorian. And it will lead to representation that is more accurately commensurate to Los Angeles’ diversity.