Los Angeles City Council explores expansion, ethics reform
City Hall is pictured. The Los Angeles City Council has been looking into expanding the number of seats on the council. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Sept. 14, 2023 10:16 a.m.
The Los Angeles City Council is looking into expanding and redistricting as well as reforming the Ethics Commission.
The Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform, created and chaired by Council President Paul Krekorian, heard ideas from the community on how to reform the council during an August meeting. The committee will slate the final recommendations to the council Sept. 18.
Krekorian’s communications director, Hugh Esten, said that when the council was created in 1928, LA was a city of 1 million people – but now it has reached 4 million. Councilmembers have to lead districts of around a quarter of a million people, barring a closer relationship between a councilmember and their constituents and causing differently shaped districts, he added.
“Enlarging the council district by even a few seats would simplify the matter of drawing districts that more accurately represent the interests of the people of the city,” Esten said. “It would also allow for more direct contact between the council offices and the constituents.”
Esten said expanding the council would increase the potential for diversity in representation as certain ethnic groups’ numbers are small in comparison to the size of the district. For example, he said Asian Americans have historically made up a large proportion of LA’s population but are underrepresented on the council.
Matt Barreto, faculty director for the Latino Policy and Politics Institute at UCLA, said enlarging the council like those in other big cities will help increase access to government.
“Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the country,” Barreto said. “As you expand the number of seats on the city council, you’re expanding opportunities for a more diverse elected body. It allows not just for racial and ethnic diversity, but class, gender, sexual orientation – any different types of diversity is going to be more available.”
Raag Agrawal, graduate student member of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, said he thinks expanding the council is needed, even though it would disband the neighborhood council system. He said the existence of the neighborhood council system indicates the demand for local representation.
Agrawal added that he thinks last year’s city council scandal – when three members were caught on recording saying racist remarks about their constituents and peers – spurred the city council into action because the situation elicited closer scrutiny from the public.
“That expansion has been in the works for a long time, and now that … they had that leaked recording, which was very racist,” he said. “Now they’re being forced to actually go through with it.”
There have also been recommendations for redistricting from groups – such as the LA Governance Reform Project – since the council would need to redistrict if it were to expand, Barreto said. Otherwise, the LA City Council will not need to redistrict until 2031, as state and federal law requires it every 10 years, said Barreto, who is a professor of political science.
Esten said the last redistricting happened right when the racist recordings were leaked, potentially causing the public to consider whether the council should have control over the redistricting process.
“There was this audio recording of council members talking trash about each other and their voters,” he said. “Which lit a fire under the public to say, ‘How about that idea of reforming the redistricting process and taking it away from the council?’”
The LA Governance Reform Project, although not providing concrete suggestions yet, is provisionally suggesting 20-something council seats, with some elected at-large – or by the whole voting pool – Esten said. However, he added that the project has not given a specific reason on why at-large seats would be beneficial.
The organization plans to also provide recommendations on how to conduct redistricting through an independent commission, he said.
The Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform is also looking into potential reforms for the Ethics Commission and into city management of land use and planning, which has been the center of many controversies, Esten said.
Agrawal said the council needs a stronger ethics commission and an oversight board.
“They (Councilmembers) don’t want to give it (their power) up,” he said. “They’re fine with the current situation, which I think is really unacceptable.”
At the end of August, Jamie York was unanimously voted against for joining the city Ethics Commission. The appointment of York, who is the Reseda Neighborhood Council president, was blocked by a movement started by Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who refused to comment on the situation, according to the LA Times.
Esten said he feels that in the 20s is a good number of councilmembers, as a large quantity of districts would lessen the power of the city council in relation to the mayor. Barreto also said he believes between 25 and 30 councilmembers would be a good way to expand. Conversely, Agrawal said the council should have more seats to reflect a closer constituent to politician ratio.
Agrawal said an important part of local government is having young voices. He said he encourages students to attend neighborhood council meetings – while they are still in effect – to ensure their thoughts are heard in proposals.
He also added that, if the city council expands, students should run for office.
“I don’t think there’s anything that disqualifies a 19-year-old from running,” Agrawal said. “We young people are very underrepresented in politics, and that means we get screwed over basically at every turn.”