Tag Archives: Herb Wesson


Long-Awaited Korean American National Museum Designs Unveiled

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

The Korean American Museum (KAM) has seen its share of temporary locations, financial struggles and internal strife during its 20-year history in Los Angeles, but things are looking considerably more promising these days.

During a press conference at Koreatown’s Oxford Palace Hotel on Tuesday, the KAM Board formally unveiled the designs for the proposed Korean American National Museum (KANM) in front of optimistic community members and supporters.

lotThe future home of the proposed Korean American National Museum at the corner of Vermont Avenue and 6th Street in L.A.’s Koreatown. (Image via the Korea Times)

“I am very happy to confirm the master plan of the Korean American Museum, a long-cherished dream of Korean Americans,” said Jae Min Chang, Korea Times publisher and KANM Board Co-chair. “This museum will preserve the cultural heritage of Korean Americans and also pass it down to future generations.”

Dr. Myung Ki Hong, a graduate of UCLA’s class of 1959, became involved with museum efforts over 10 years ago, and he saw the museum as a “terrific place” where second and future generations of Korean Americans could find anchors in their identity.

“They can proudly be Korean Americans,” Hong said. “We have heritage and 5,000 years of culture. … We are saying, we are someone and letting the world know what we are made out of.”

Back in October 2012, the then-Korean American Museum signed a 55-year lease with the city of Los Angeles for a permanent location on the corner of Vermont Avenue and Sixth Street, in the heart of Koreatown. L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson inked the deal, which required the museum to begin construction within three years—otherwise, the terms of the land agreement would change. Wesson had no shortage of enthusiasm at being able to reveal the plans for the museum, calling it an example of a “perfect creative partnership.”

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The plans for the KANM reveal a 45,000-square-foot building. The museum itself will occupy the first two floors of a seven-story mixed-use building and will include two large exhibition spaces, an auditorium, conference rooms, a café/gift shop and a rooftop garden for receptions and even weddings.

The upper five floors of the complex will be reserved for 103 apartment units. All proceeds from the apartment rentals will be used to finance the museum’s operations, which will be handled by a nonprofit organization.

Chang, who also serves as the fundraising committee chair, asked the Korean American community to participate in realizing what he called the “biggest project in 113 years of Korean American immigration.” The KANM board is eyeing the end of this year or early 2016 to begin construction.

“The owner of the museum is you,” Chang said. “As we showed our power months ago in the election of [L.A. City Councilman] David Ryu, if we show our power once again, the fundraising for the Korean American National museum will be a success, and we can see the museum built in a short time.”

The museum was designed by L.A.-based architectural firm Gruen Associates. At the press conference, architect Larry Scholssberg emphasized the building’s simple design, yet flexible functionality.

Earlier this month, the KANM Board also found an architecture design advisor in Eui-Sung Yi, the director of The Now Institute at University of California, Los Angeles and design principal at Morphosis Architects. He has also previously overseen the completion of the Korean Embassy in Tokyo and the Korean Consulate in Guangzhou, China.

Yi told those gathered at the press conference that the museum had a personal connection to his own story of immigrating to the U.S. in 1980 with his mother, who was present at the event.

“The legacy of my growth is personified and represented with the realization of this institution,” said Yi. “The issue of identity, heritage [and] legacy of the Korean diaspora in a foreign context is something that I’ve grappled and dealt with for several, several years.

“My own personal role is to be the design director and adviser, to conjoin the seemingly sometimes opposing but sometimes, I would imagine, highly contextual community and cultural issues.”

building2An exterior rendering of the front of the museum in daylight.

buildingAn exterior rending of the back of the museum at night.

The museum exterior is wrapped in a semi-transparent screen inspired by the Korean flower wall, or kkotdam (꽃담), which was traditionally part of the perimeter wall of homes belonging to the Korean upper class. As for the shadows behind the screen, Yi described them as the mythic image of the Korean landscape transported into the United States.

“The idea was to always have this longing or nostalgia for what Korea was, and is,” Yi explained. “Under the screen are forms that are not very clear, ethereal. They’re romantic; they’re nostalgic. It’s what we all long for as a connection up in the clouds.

“[The building has] symbolic references that deal with identity, that deal with heritage, that deal with a level of discussion that we all hope can transcend beyond generations and generations.”


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L.A. City Council Candidates: How They Fared

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

One thing about the Los Angeles City Council race for District 4 is clear: There will be a runoff election, since no candidate in the crowded 14-person race received more than 50 percent of the vote. What’s less clear is who will be advancing to the May 19 election.

Based on Tuesday’s primary election results, the top two finishers in Council District 4 were Carolyn Ramsay and David Ryu, also the district’s top fundraisers. But trailing very close behind Ryu is Tomas O’Grady. With mail-in ballots still left to be counted, it’s still very much a toss-up.

The uncertainty should be resolved on or before March 24, since the Los Angeles City Charter allows 21 days from the date of the primary to certify official election results. Only the top two finishers in the race head to the run-off election.

For now, Ryu’s goal to become the first Asian American city council member in Los Angeles since Michael Woo left office in 1993 is still buoyant. In a statement to the media Wednesday, the Korean American candidate thanked his supporters while urging their patience in the days ahead.

“There are still votes being counted and I will not consider myself to be in the runoff until every single neighborhood voice has been heard and all of the votes are counted,” Ryu said. “I will not declare that I am in the runoff until all the votes are counted and all the neighborhood voices are heard.”

Among all of Tuesday’s municipal races—seven City Council seats, plus four school board member seats, four L.A. Community College District Board of Trustees’ seats plus two charter amendments—the District 4 race is the only one heading to a runoff. District Four includes the area of Central L.A. and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Based on results tabulated late Tuesday by the City Clerk’s Office, Ramsay, a former aide to termed-out Councilman Tom LaBonge, received 2,911 votes, or 15.3 percent of the vote. Ryu received 2,776 votes, or 14.6 percent of the vote. Following closely behind was nonprofit director O’Grady, who trailed by just 61 votes, with 2,715 votes, or 14.29 percent of the vote.

According to City Clerk media specialist Julio Esperias, there are still 46,412 mail-in ballots left to be tabulated for all of Tuesday’s races combined.

All in all, Tuesday’s primaries featured a dismal voter turnout, at 8.6 percent. That’s half of what it was four years ago, according to the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps that could change in the near future: L.A. residents who did turn out Tuesday overwhelmingly voted in support of two charter amendments that will move future city and school board elections to even-numbered years to coincide with state and federal elections.

Whoever wins the Council District 4 runoff race will fill the seat starting July 1 for a five-and-a-half-year term.

Ryu, a UCLA economics grad who raised more than $400,000 in an impressive showing for a first-time political candidate, is the director of a Los Angeles nonprofit health care provider. He has said he would like the City Council to be more “representative” and give more of a voice to the “voiceless…one of those being Asian American[s].”

“I’m not looking to represent just one group,” he told the USC Annenberg Media Center blog, Neon Tommy.

Meanwhile, the only other Korean American candidate in this year’s City Council races, Grace Yoo, lost in her bid Tuesday to unseat City Council President Herb Wesson in the race for District 10, which includes a chunk of Koreatown.

Although she faced a considerable uphill battle to unseat the political veteran, Yoo managed to receive 29.5 percent of the vote in the 10th district, with 3,266 votes. Wesson received 7,022 votes, or 63.5 percent of the vote.

In a statement emailed to her supporters Wednesday, Yoo said her campaign was a “grassroots, underdog campaign from day one.”

“The Yoo campaign was fueled by people power, not big money special interests, and we can be proud of running a positive campaign with integrity,” she said, thanking her volunteers. “Despite last night’s results, I remain committed to fighting for the Koreatown community and for true diversity on the Los Angeles City Council.”

Yoo, an attorney and former executive director of the Korean American Coalition, has told KoreAm that the fight to challenge L.A.’s 2012 redistricting–a cause that goaded her into this race–is not over. After Tuesday’s election, Yoo only had congratulatory remarks for her opponent, who oversaw the mapmaking process.

You can see her tweet to Wesson below:


Featured image via Benjamin Dunn/Twitter


Ruling Knocks Down Challenge to 2012 L.A. Redistricting

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Just one week before the Los Angeles City Council primary races this coming Tuesday, a federal judge in California ruled against a group of Koreatown residents who challenged the city’s redrawn boundaries of electoral maps in 2012 that sliced up the neighborhood into multiple districts.

In her Feb. 24 ruling, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said she found no evidence that the city was “predominantly motivated by race” when it created the new boundaries, which the plaintiffs alleged diluted and negatively impacted the voting power of Koreatown residents.

Tuesday’s primary race for Council District 10, which spreads across L.A.’s city center and includes most of Koreatown, features two key players from 2012’s contentious redistricting process, in which L.A.’s Korean American community rallied in large numbers to protest the proposed divisions, voicing their dissent in heated public hearings.

Grace Yoo, an attorney, a leader against the 2012 redistricting and the former executive director of the Korean American Coalition, is seeking to oust District 10 incumbent Herb Wesson in this year’s election. As the City Council president, Wesson oversaw the map-making process in 2012 and is accused in the lawsuit of redrawing the lines so as to boost the percentage of African American registered voters in his district—and in so doing, splitting off parts of Koreatown’s electorate.

While L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown has never previously been incorporated into a single district, neighborhood advocates, citing historically absent Korean and Asian American representation on the 15-member City Council, urged 2012 to be the year to change that. The redistricting process occurs only once every 10 years to account for population and demographic shifts.

The rancor over the redrawn districts also stems from Koreatown residents’ frustrations with the slow pace of neighborhood improvement under Wesson’s leadership, even as the veteran councilmember has drawn campaign contributions from a sizable portion of Koreatown businesses and merchants requiring city alcohol permits.

“To this day, Koreatown has no park or recreation center, no athletic facilities, no community center, no performing arts center, no senior citizen housing, and a shortage of affordable housing,” the redistricting lawsuit filed in July 2012 stated.

Advocates, to no avail, pushed for the commercially thriving neighborhood—which the Wilshire-Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council estimates as having a population of 95,324 that is 52.4 percent Latino and 35.4 percent Asian—to be folded into a single district: Council District 13, which includes the areas of Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town, to create a more concentrated Asian American voter base.

Yet the city’s redrawn boundaries in the end reflected a new Council District 10 in the shape of a “fat turkey,” as LA Weekly put it. The new boundaries claimed most of Koreatown’s commercial corridors, preserving an important source of campaign funding for Wesson, while it folded in historically African American neighborhoods from District 9.

The redrawn ordinance was approved by the council, by a 13-2 vote, in June 2012.

Spearheaded by Yoo’s efforts, angry Koreatown residents turned to the federal court system to challenge a process they claimed was secretive, lacking transparency and blind to the community’s concerns. A redistricting commission comprised of individuals appointed by city council members, the mayor and other city officials was tasked with seeking public input throughout the process and advising the council on the new boundaries.

Named plaintiffs Peter Lee, Miri Park, Ho Sam Park, Yonah Hong and former KoreAm staffer Geney Kim—all identified as registered voters in District 10—alleged that the city’s redistricting scheme constituted racial gerrymandering by “packing” African American voters into the district and excluding Koreatown voters from a single district apportionment, preventing these residents from “obtaining a City Council resident who best represents the shared socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic, public health and other common interests of the Koreatown community,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit asserted that the City of Los Angeles used race as the overriding consideration in redrawing district lines, in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It referenced emails exchanged between council members and statements uttered by Wesson in other settings as evidence.

Indeed, the political veteran was recorded in a ministers’ gathering after the redistricting vote as saying that, when it came to the redrawn maps, he “did the very best I could with what I had”—continuing, “I was able to protect the most important asset that we as black people have, and that’s to make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

In her 24-page ruling last Tuesday, Judge Marshall sided against the plaintiffs. She said she saw no evidence that race was the predominant factor in drawing up the new boundaries and that every change to District 10 “satisfied a traditional, non-racial, redistricting purpose.”

She also said that District 10 was “a multiracial district where no one racial group constitutes a majority” and that 2012’s redistricting only increased the district’s African American voting population from 36.8 percent to 40.5 percent, or by a 3.7 percent change.

Nevertheless, the judge made note of the fact that the evidence demonstrated that “some individuals involved in the redistricting process (namely Commissioner [Christopher] Ellison and Council President Wesson) may have been motivated by racial considerations.” (Ellison, it should be noted, was one of Wesson’s appointees to the redistricting commission.)

But, she added, “that one commissioner expressed racial concerns and one councilmember praised the redistrict ordinance after it was passed cannot be imputed to prove the city’s motivation.”

Although race can be used as a factor in the redistricting process, it cannot be the primary consideration, and it was the plaintiff’s burden to show otherwise to the court in this case.

The parties in this three-year legal battle had been awaiting a ruling from Marshall ever since last summer, when both sides moved for a judgment in the case based on facts presented in court papers.

The lawsuit consolidated a separate complaint filed by registered voters in Council Districts 8, 9 and 10 who also alleged an equal protection clause violation over the city’s inclusion of the two historically African American neighborhoods into District 10 and the formation of a majority Latino district in the 9th District. The judge also ruled against those sets of plaintiffs.

Hyongsoon Kim, senior counsel at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and an attorney to the Koreatown plaintiffs, told KoreAm that his clients are considering a possible appeal of the ruling.

“We respect Judge Marshall’s decision but do not agree with it, given the uniquely strong evidence in this case that the city redrew city council district lines based predominantly on race,” he said. “Given that evidence, we believe Judge Marshall should have allowed plaintiffs an opportunity to present their case at trial and required the city to explain its actions at trial.”

Through a spokesman, Wesson said about the ruling, “The city attorney’s office did an excellent job advising the city throughout the process, along with our outside counsel Remcho, Johanson & Purcell. It’s now time to move on with the city’s business.”

Yoo did not respond to a request from KoreAm regarding the ruling. In an interview with USC Annenberg’s political news blog, Neon Tommy, she said, “I think it’s very important that we have another woman at the table. I think it’s important to have an Asian voice at the table. The lines are drawn so that this was not supposed to be done. I’m really one of those people that if you keep pushing me, I’m going to stand up.”

Yoo and David Ryu, who is running in Tuesday’s District 4 primary race, are the only Korean American candidates in the field for City Council this year.