The city of Los Angeles could be forced to establish an independent redistricting commission through two overlapping bills approved by state lawmakers this week.
If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the legislation would limit the City Council’s influence over the lines that delineate their districts. The city’s most recent redistricting efforts came under national scrutiny in the wake of the city’s audio leak scandal last year.
City lawmakers also have spent months discussing redistricting reform and have pledged to put their own independent redistricting commission proposal before Los Angeles voters next fall.
Senate Bill 52, which was introduced by state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), would require cities with a population of at least 2.5 million to establish an independent redistricting commission. The bill also lays out guidelines for how such a commission should operate.
Because Los Angeles is the only city in California with a population of more than 2 million, the bill would apply only to L.A. for now. (The City Council voted in February to formally oppose an earlier version of Durazo's bill following a contentious debate in council chambers.)
A separate, broader bill written by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles), would require large cities, counties and school districts to adopt independent redistricting commissions by 2030. Assembly Bill 1248 also lays out rules for how such commissions should operate. It would apply to cities and counties with more than 300,000 residents and school districts or community college districts that have more than 500,000 residents.
The two pieces of legislation are designed to work with each other. AB 1248 has a carve-out exempting cities with a population of at least 2.5 million people from its provisions, so long as SB 52 is also enacted. And SB 52 has a provision saying that it will become operative only if AB 1248 is enacted.
Paul Mitchell, an expert who has done more than 100 municipal redistrictings, praised the reform efforts, saying "I think anything that can move the true independent redistricting model down to more jurisdictions is beneficial."
“No matter which path helps us to get there, I believe it is essential that we create a truly independent redistricting commission,” Councilmember Nithya Raman said Friday. Raman introduced a motion to begin the process of creating an independent redistricting commission for the city with Paul Krekorian, the now-president of the City Council, in December 2021.
Under Los Angeles’ current redistricting system, elected city officials appoint members to the redistricting panel who can essentially act as their proxies, and the council has final say over the maps.
Changes to the City Charter — the civic constitution that governs Los Angeles and outlines the current redistricting system — require a public vote.
Whether this state legislation would supersede the need for a local charter amendment vote remains an open legal question.
But the question will be moot if Los Angeles voters approve an independent redistricting charter amendment in November 2024. (SB 52 has a so-called offramp for that situation, meaning the legislation would apply only if the City Charter does not establish an independent redistricting commission of its own that meets certain criteria, according to the text of the bill.)
Bryan told The Times that he would be "ecstatic" to see Los Angeles successfully establish an independent redistricting commission on its own next year, preempting the two bills' sway over the city's redistricting process.
"We really want this to be a grassroots effort and for local jurisdictions like Los Angeles to design for themselves an independent process through charter reform, or whatever reform is necessary in that locality," Bryan said. He described the legislation as a set of "guardrails" that would create an independent redistricting framework and put pressure on local jurisdictions to step up.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.