WHAT MAKES REDISTRICTING INDEPENDENT?
Currently, elected officials of the City of Los Angeles appoint commissioners serving at the whim of those representatives. The 21-member appointed commission is also only advisory in nature — City Council has the authority to adjust the final map created by the Commission before approving it, maintaining final say over district placement. This process of appointment and final approval allows seated Councilmembers to shape districts to their own advantage.
An Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) would establish separation from the influence of elected officials in all elements of the redistricting process. Such a Commission would be composed of invested residents: its members selected from a pool of qualified applicants, either randomly or by a neutral and non-partisan City entity such as the Ethics Commission. The work and the members of an independent commission would not hinge on the inclinations of City Councilmembers, and the final district map would be approved by the Independent Redistricting Commission itself.
WHY MAKE A CHANGE?
Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around!
In a city government frequently mired in corruption and scandal, the current redistricting process gives too much power to sitting City Councilmembers. They appoint and can reappoint redistricting commissioners at their pleasure. They can coordinate directly with commissioners to prioritize the needs of the Councilmember, rather than the needs of constituents. They can even redraw the boundaries recommended by the redistricting commission as they see fit before voting to approve a final map. These pitfalls to the current redistricting process are well known: even the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission 2021 recommended the future adoption of an Independent Redistricting Commission in their final Report and Recommendations.
City Councilmembers' potential to exert undue influence over the redistricting process isn't just a theory, it really happens! During 2021 redistricting, several Councilmembers repeatedly changed their appointees with individuals who had not been present for previous public hearings, as late into the process as September and October of 2021, just weeks before the final report and recommendations of the Commission were published. Councilmembers also made fairly broad changes to the final recommended map they were presented by the commission, Draft K 2.5 — instead drawing and approving the current district boundaries of Los Angeles. Nearly a year later, a leaked recording from the 2021 redistricting process revealed several Councilmembers discussing manipulating district lines to consolidate their own political power by dividing active communities, diluting their voting power while disadvantaging council colleagues and future opponents. During the leaked conversation, these Councilmembers were also shamelessly racist and derogatory towards their colleagues as well as Black, Indigenous, and other racial and ethnic groups of Angelenos: blatant in their callous contempt for the City's constituents.
A recent report sponsored by the ACLU of Northern and Southern California, as well California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, found that Independent Redistricting Commissions adopted maps that better reflected the interests of communities over incumbents, and that IRC-run redistricting overall was far more transparent, more participatory, and more responsive to community concerns. By enshrining an Independent Redistricting Commission in the Los Angeles City Charter, we can ensure that future district lines will be drawn for the representational benefit of residents and communities of the city, rather than for the electoral benefit of politicians.
INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS & CONCERNS
There are many ways to design an Independent Redistricting Commission, depending on the desired components and degree of separation from existing City officials and agencies. In addition to recommending the establishment of an Independent Redistricting Commission, the 2021 Commission provided eight further reform recommendations for the current redistricting process:
1. Create narrow criteria for the replacement of Commissioners
2. Ban all ex parte communications between elected officials and the Commissioners, preventing conversations about
redistricting except in a public forum, on the record
3. Begin the redistricting process earlier
4. Assign a full-time City staff member to assist the Commission
5. Provide sufficient funds for the Commission's work
6. Authorize the search for an Executive Director prior to the seating of a Commission
7. In the year preceding redistricting, provide grants to community organizations to conduct public redistricting training
8. Establish a starting point website for the Commission prior to the beginning of their work
Redistricting is an intensive process that involves extensive public outreach, technical resources and assistance, legal support, and staff to aid and implement the work of the Commission. Time is required to conduct an application and selection process of commissioners, to analyze socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic data, as well as to create preliminary maps and conduct the extensive process of public hearings. All of this must be done in coordination with the official Census data release, and final maps must be approved prior to the start of the following election cycle. The official Census data becomes available on March 31st of every year ending in 1 (2021, 2031, etc). The following election, a Primary, occurs in either March or June of the following year, meaning that new district maps would need to be ready by October or November of the year before — giving any commission only 7 months from the availability of official Census data until a final approval deadline. Because of this incredibly tight timeline, it is vital that the commission application and selection process, as well as the analysis of socioeconomic data and the process of fostering public participation start much earlier.
We will cover a few considerations for a potential Independent Redistricting Commission in more detail below. This review is meant to provide a basic introduction — Independent Redistricting Commissions come in many sizes and forms, and the Los Angeles City Charter offers the freedom to design this process in a way that truly works for the people. Please visit our Resources page for more in-depth materials on this and other subjects.
A primary factor of an Independent Redistricting Commission is its size — the number of commissioners should represent the City's diversity and ensure full participation of the members. A commission too small would not properly represent the vast geographic spread of Los Angeles or the diversity of its residents. On the other hand, a commission too large may experience difficulties coming to a consensus on decisions or ensuring the equitable participation of all members.
Currently the City's Redistricting Commission utilizes 21 appointed members. The commissions of other cities and counties throughout California vary from 5 to 14 members. Due to the size, diversity, and geographic complexity of the City of Los Angeles, a number of commissioners on the upper end of this range or slightly higher is expected.
In some jurisdictions, alternate commissioners are selected in addition to the standard commissioners. These alternates are non-voting members who sit in on public hearings and discussions, and are meant to step into the process and replace any Commissioners who are unable to continue in their duties for any reason. Rather than waiting for a replacement to be selected from a pool of applicants and brought up to speed, an IRC design that includes some alternates would ensure a smooth and quick transition should any Commissioners be unable to serve the entirety of their term. In many cases, alternates are selected from the pool of applicants immediately after the commissioners, and then one of these alternates is randomly selected to replace commissioners as necessary.
The following table shows the number of redistricting commissions and their alternates from various jurisdictions throughout California, complied as part of the March CLA's Report.
The California Fair Maps Act defines an Independent Redistricting Commission as one that is authorized to "adopt the district boundaries of a legislative body" — also requiring an application process open to eligible residents rather than a system of appointment. In most jurisdictions, applications are accepted from anyone qualified to participate.
QUALIFICATIONS — While exact qualification requirements vary, they may include objective factors such as residency in the jurisdiction and having voted in recent elections, as well as subjective factors such as the demonstrated ability to be impartial, to appreciate the diversity of the jurisdiction, to be able to comprehend federal and State voting rights laws, as well as to be able to analyze the data and information presented. Application requirements can vary by jurisdiction from fairly complex to simply requiring that an individual be a voter of the jurisdiction and at least 18 years old.
DISQUALIFICATIONS — Some individuals are disqualified from serving as a redistricting commissioner by provisions in the California Fair Maps Act (FMA). While the City Charter provides Los Angeles flexibility in following these exact criteria, it is important to ensure public trust and transparency in the commission design process. Disqualification criteria listed in the FMA apply to the activities of the applicant, their spouse, and their family members, and include having served as or recently being a candidate for an elected office, having been registered as a lobbyist in the local jurisdiction, or having been an officer, employee or consultant of a elected official, candidate, or political party. These restrictions apply for 8 years if the statement applies to the applicant or their spouse, and is reduced to 4 years for some of the statements that apply to the applicant's family members. This ensures that applicants for the redistricting commission represent the interests of their communities and the City, rather than those of elected officials or political candidates.
APPLICATION — An entity would need to be designated to initiate and manage the application process - in many jurisdictions, the City Clerk or elections official is selected. This entity would be responsible for preparing and publicizing the application, ensuring a minimum number of applications per council district, reviewing the applications for objective qualifications and disqualifying applicants based on established criteria, and publicizing the names of the applicants in the final qualified pool. Rather than having the City Clerk also review and screen applications, that process can be assigned to a the Ethics Committee or to a commissioner screening or selection panel - potentially composed of one retired judge, one law student from an accredited local law school, and a representative from a 501(c)(3) good government organization.
SELECTION — The members of an IRC and any potential alternates can be selected from the qualified pool of applicants in several ways:
QUALIFICATIONS & SELECTION
Single-Step Selection: Randomly select all commissioners and any potential alternates from the pool of qualified applicants. While it is possible to group the qualified applicants into regional groups from which to randomly select, such a fully randomized process may not result in a commission that represents the sociodemographic and geographic diversity of Los Angeles, and is better suited for more compact cities.
Dual-Step Selection: Randomly select a portion of the commission from the pool of qualified applicants based on geographic grouping. This group then selects the remaining commissioners from the qualified pool to ensure representative diversity among all commissioners. This process is the most common form of IRC selection, and is discussed further starting on page 31 of the CLA's Report.
Panel Selection: Appoint a panel that selects commissioners and alternates from the pool of qualified applicants. The City of San Diego is the only such independent commission model, which seats a panel of retired judges termed the Appointing Authority to select commissioners from the applicant pool based on social and ethnic diversity, qualifications, impartiality, and geographic coverage of the city.
REMOVAL - Some circumstances may demand the removal of a commissioner — to be replaced with an alternate if available, or selected from the pool of qualified applicants if not. Reasons for removal in other California IRCs include: substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct, no longer qualifying (or originally not qualifying) under the application terms, as well as any violations of the transparency of the process – such as failing to disclose ex parte communications. In most cases, members are removed on the prerogative of the commission, who can hold a public hearing and vote to remove the offending commissioner.
As briefly outlined earlier, the redistricting encompasses several key dates, around which the rest of the process must be constructed.
TERM AND TIMELINE
The current commission process requires that the Commissioners be appointed no later than the date when Census data becomes available, a vague date as there were multiple census data releases until State law required use of the PL-94 census datafile, which only becomes available on March 31st of every year ending in 1. The 2021 Redistricting Commission recommended starting the redistricting process earlier, as did the commissions of many other jurisdictions - indicating the complexity and time required for proper and equitable redistricting. For reference, data collection for the 2021 redistricting process began in 2019, with the Commission seated in September 2020.
It is important to provide sufficient time for the commission application and selection process, as well as to provide relevant training to the Commissioners and any potential alternates. Once the commission is seated, the entire process of public input and map approval must be completed in time to be used in following election cycle.
For Charter cities like Los Angeles, the California Elections Code requires redistricting to be completed no later than 205 days before the next election in a year ending in 2, unless the Charter designates some other time. This date would next fall on August 13, 2031. Based on the analysis in the CLA's Report, it seems that a slightly shorter timeline prior to the next election is possible, which would give future Commissions a little more time to work following the official Census data release.
(It is possible to postpone the ratification and establishment of the maps by an election cycle, but it involves waiting an additional two years from Census to the first election utilizing new maps.)
While creating a new IRC process, it is also possible to specify certain requirements around public meetings and public comment. The California Elections Code requires four public hearings before the adoption of a final map, at least one of which has to be conducted prior to preparation of a draft map and at least two after. At least one of these hearings must be held on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a weeknight after 6 p.m, and hearings must be publicly noticed at least 5 days in advance (reduced to 3 day's notice in the 28 days prior to the final map adoption deadline). Angelenos can use this charter reform opportunity to demand considerations for increased public accessibility, such as:
- Any number of required public hearings
- In-person hearings located in communities throughout the city
- Public comment by phone or via hybrid virtual meetings
- A percentage or larger quantity of weekend or evening meetings to enhance participation
- Longer notice in advance of public hearings, allowing preparation for engagement
- Live translation services available during all redistricting public hearings
One additional factor is the duration of the Commission's term. Currently, the term of the appointed commission is assumed to end upon presenting the the final map to City Council, there is nothing further for them to do. In the case of an IRC, Commissioners may be needed to participate in legal challenges or other disputes. Thus, many jurisdictions seat their commissions for a full 10 years, or until the selection of the next redistricting commission - there are simply no meetings after the final map is approved unless prompted by some external event, or to fulfill any additional duties that may be assigned to the commission, such as preparign the application process and engaging in public outreach for the following redistricting cycle.
Remaining considerations concern the bureaucratic and legal matters of the Commission:
Which entity should conduct the application process for the commission? Should the same entity conduct the selection process, or should application process be assigned to an entity such as the City Clerk, while a more neutral and removed party, such as the City Ethics Commission, conducts application screening? (This position is now an official Fair Rep LA Coalition Recommendation)
Which departments or City positions will coordinate with the Commission regarding administrative or budgetary needs? For example, most IRCs allow the Commission to hire its own executive director and staff, which would require access to City funding.
How will amendments to the redistricting process be handled? It is possible to write the entirety of the new redistricting process into the City Charter, but then it could only be amended by another charter reform ballot and city-wide vote. Instead, it may make sense to write some provisions into the City Administrative code, which would allow slight modifications to the process by City Council without requiring a full city vote. To provide additional separation between elected officials and the redistricting process, it is possible to require the previous commission to approve any proposed changes to the process.
Who will represent the Commission during any potential litigation? This could be the City Attorney, but in order to generate distance between elected officials and the Commission, it is also possible to allow the Commission to select its own legal counsel and representation - potentially allowing representation by the City Attorney if the commission so chooses. (Allowing the Commission to select it's own independent outside counsel is now a Fair Rep LA Coalition Recommendation)
How much will Commissioners and any potential alternates be compensated for their work? The redistricting process is quite time intensive, and providing some moderate compensation will make the position of Commissioner more accessible to the public — applicants will know they will be compensated for their time, and won't need to dip into their own funds as they perform a public service. Other Commissions within the City of Los Angeles receive compensation ranging from $25 to $900 per meeting. The City of Berkley provides $100 per meeting to voting members, while the State of California provides $300 per day while the commissioner is engaged in commission business.
Currently, the Los Angeles City Charter includes provisions for the governing of LAUSD, including provisions for the establishment of the seven Board districts and their redistricting. As part of City Charter reform, it is possible to create a similar IRC structure for the LAUSD Board of Supervisors as well. More information on this possibility can be found on starting on page 45 of the CLA's report.
In order to facilitate data collection and analysis, both for the members of future redistricting commissions and for the residents of Los Angeles as a whole, it may make sense to establish a City Data Bureau, as recommended by the CLA. This Data Bureau would be responsible for collecting and publishing a wide range of sociodemographic and geographic data that would complement each decade's Census. The Data Bureau could also ensure that the data and tools provided to the IRC and the public of Los Angeles are consistent, allowing the clear and concise communication of needs and ideas during public hearings. As a permanent agency, the Bureau would be able to obtain and process data as it becomes available prior to redistricting, rather than compiling relevant sources last-minute after the formation of an IRC. It could also be structured in a way to permanently retain independence from the influence of elected officials, serving as a technical agency focused on providing accurate data for various City agencies and the public.
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