The lawyer for a group of Los Angeles residents looking to undo year-old boundaries for 15 City Council districts filed a complaint Wednesday accusing two top elected officials — including newly inaugurated Mayor Eric Garcetti — of violating federal voting rights laws when the maps were developed.
Attorney Leo Terrell sent a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder alleging that then-City Councilman Garcetti and Council President Herb Wesson disenfranchised voters, redrawing district lines in a way that benefited incumbents while disenfranchising the public.
Terrell cited to a memo drafted by Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff to and son of Councilman Bernard C. Parks. In the document, Parks Jr. said that a Wesson deputy had warned that one proposed map — which was ultimately not pursued — would put "too many Mexicans" into Wesson's district.
Parks was unhappy with the final map approved last year by Wesson and his colleagues. In the undated memo, Parks Jr. also said that Garcetti told him that Wesson was looking to increase the number of African American voters in his district.
"You cannot use race as a factor in drawing lines," said Terrell, standing outside City Hall on Wednesday. Terrell said he wants a judge to redo the maps to make sure "the lines are drawn without any contemplation of race being used as a factor."
Wesson and Garcetti have declined to comment on Terrell's assertions. But Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, who has a website devoted to the redistricting process, said federal law allows for race to be part of the deliberations when new political maps are made. In a courtroom, the question would come down to whether race was discussed too much, Levitt said.
During redistricting “you can consider community interests, economic interests, certain industrial patterns, or even sports fandom,” Levitt said. “You can consider lots of different things and also race, as long as race is one element thrown into the mix. You only get in trouble when race is the predominant factor.”
The Times reported last August that Wesson told a group of black ministers that he had managed during the redistricting process to "make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years." Redistricting only covers a 10-year period. Terrell has argued that those statements, captured on video and posted online last year, also show that race was wrongfully used in the map-making process.
The "too many Mexicans" memo was posted on Parks' official city website earlier this year. Parks was unhappy with the final map, which removed USC and the neighborhoods of Baldwin Vista, Village Green and part of Leimert Park from his district.
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