Story and photo by Eugene Yi
More than 100 activists filled the city council chambers on Wednesday to reiterate their threat: they would sue the city unless it redrew L.A.’s political boundaries to place the Wilshire Center/Koreatown neighborhood council in the 13th council district, which has an open seat in next year’s city election.
The map under consideration by the council would place the vast majority of Koreatown into the 10th council district, which is currently represented by city council president Herb Wesson, who is reviled by many activists in the community.
The disaffection with Wesson became one of the bigger stories in Los Angeles in recent months, with the L.A. Times expounding on it today.
The story discusses many of the allegations that have been voiced at the redistricting hearings over the past few months: Herb Wesson uses Koreatown as a lucrative source of campaign donations, in some cases — residents claim — pressuring businesses into donating, all while neglecting the needs of the neighborhood. Wesson denied all charges, adding that he was surprised by the ire coming from Koreatown activists.
Alex Cha, a lawyer who has helped organize Koreatown activists in the redistricting fight, said that though he wished the L.A. Times story could have been more critical, he was glad for the effect it would have at a time when Wesson should be setting his agenda after becoming the first African American city council president.
“It’s Wesson’s time to be basking in the limelight,” he said. “But he’s out there defending himself, him and his staffer [Michael Bai]. Politicians do not like defending themselves.”
A potential 13th district that includes Koreatown would allow for a strong Asian American influence, according to the activists. Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown are already part of the 13th, and with current 13th district councilmember Eric Garcetti seeking the mayoralty in next year’s election, many have expressed hopes of electing an Asian American to the seat.
Though the council has until July to make a final decision, Wesson has scheduled the city council to take a final vote on the redistricting boundaries on March 16, giving the impression that he is trying to rush approval of the maps as they stand.
The Koreatown activists have taken preliminary legal measures and are currently in talks with an unnamed Century City law firm to take up the case, says Jane Oak, president of the Korean American Bar Association. A legal fund has been set up to help defray costs, with about $30,000 of donations expected, she added. A potential lawsuit, the activists say, would accuse the city of violations of the civil rights of Koreatown residents, as well as procedural abnormalities during the redistricting process.