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USC standoff in LA redistribution fight

It would have been enough for the University of Southern California to find itself at the center of a political controversy this month – a federal indictment targeting former Los Angeles dean and city councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

But now USC has been embroiled in a second political skirmish at City Hall: a standoff between two other board members, each of whom has expressed interest in representing USC.

The city’s Redistribution Commission, tasked with redrawing the council’s district boundaries, raised the issue Monday night, voting 11-10 to move USC out of Councilor Curren Price’s district and into the one represented by Councilor Marqueece Harris -Dawson. On Tuesday night, they abruptly reversed, moving USC to the Price District on an 11-9 vote.

Harris-Dawson supporters have argued that returning USC, along with neighboring museums and stadiums, to the 8th Arrondissement after a 10-year absence, would correct a grave injustice. The council moved those institutions out of 8th, which has the city’s largest percentage of black residents, in the last redistribution of 2012.

Price and his allies say they are determined to prevent $ 1 billion in assets being taken from the 9th arrondissement, describing them as essential to the region’s economic prosperity. The existing neighborhood, which is 78% Latino, has the highest concentration of residents living in poverty in the entire city, according to figures provided by officials of the Redistribution Commission.

The committee is meeting on Thursday to finalize its map, which will be considered by the board later this year. But this week’s votes have increased the odds of a disorderly skirmish involving Price and Harris-Dawson, both black and representing different sections of south Los Angeles.

A relocation of the university could also become a campaign issue for Price, who is running for re-election. One of his opponents, Dulce Vasquez, has already started demanding that USC remains in place.

The USC issue has dragged on for months. Harris-Dawson addressed the issue three weeks ago, saying on Twitter that USC and several other “economic assets” – the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the California African American Museum, among others – had been removed from its district a decade ago and should be returned.

Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization Harris-Dawson ran before taking office, has taken a similar stance. And on Monday, Harris-Dawson’s nominee to the Cutting Commission, Valerie Shaw, demanded an ascending or descending vote from the 21-member commission, calling USC’s return a civil rights issue.

Shaw predicted that due to changing demographics, the Harris-Dawson neighborhood would eventually become “the only place through which African Americans will have a voice in this city.”

USC is in the midst of a standoff between two Los Angeles city councilors as the city prepares to redraw the municipal district boundaries.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“The future of the African-American community lies” in the 8th arrondissement, she said. “So this vote is about the future of black people in LA.”

The 8th Arrondissement of Harris-Dawson is currently 33% Black and nearly 58% Latino, according to population figures. However, among citizens of voting age in his district, black residents still constitute the majority, according to the redistribution figures.

Price responded to the committee’s initial vote, taken on Monday, calling it a “takeover of monumental proportions.” Removing USC and other institutions from his district, he warned, “would directly contribute to the decline of a burgeoning black and brown community.”

Price’s 9th District stretches from 95th Street north to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Among district residents of voting age who are also citizens, about 64% are Latinos and 25% are black, according to redistribution figures.

“This fight is not over,” Price said in a statement. “I will fight tooth and nail to keep our entire neighborhood and defend it to the end. “

Asked about the controversy, USC officials did not say whether the university would prefer one district or the other. Samuel Garrison, USC senior vice president of academic relations, only said the University Park neighborhood, which includes USC, should be kept in one district.

“We have made great strides together in recent years, and we want to strengthen collaborations and partnerships over the next decade,” he said in a statement. “Dividing University Park into two neighborhoods would be a step backwards and jeopardize the progress we have made as a community. “

For many voters, large institutions like USC are seen as a boon to an entire region, not just a single city council district. However, there may be situations where a district could receive targeted support.

When colleges, museums, and real estate developers come up with construction projects in Los Angeles, they can work with their municipal representative to determine how some of the economic benefits of the project might be distributed.

Charisse Bremond Weaver, a constituency commissioner appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, argued for a compromise this week, proposing that the District of Price receive USC while ensuring that the District of Harris-Dawson is home to museums near the university. On Tuesday, the commission agreed to set up the fairgrounds, located next to USC, in the Harris-Dawson district.

The debate over who should represent USC is just one question that permeates the redistribution process. Council members Paul Krekorian and Nithya Raman have been complaining for weeks that their neighborhoods are being redesigned in a way that could cause them to lose many of the neighborhoods that elected them last year.

The process of drawing the map coincided with the recent filing of an indictment against Ridley-Thomas and a former USC dean, who alleges they conspired to channel the county’s money to the university in exchange for the admission of Ridley-Thomas’ son to a higher school with a full scholarship and a paid teaching position.

Ridley-Thomas, a former county supervisor who also represents part of South Los Angeles, has vowed to fight the charges. An attorney for Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of USC, said her client had committed no crime.

The city redraws the municipal district boundaries every 10 years, after the release of US census data. As part of this process, city leaders must ensure that each district has roughly the same number of people, while also ensuring that the voting rights of certain groups – including blacks and Latinos – be protected.

The USC debate dates back to 2011 and 2012, when then-board chairman Herb Wesson presided over the redistribution process. Around this time, those appointed by Wesson, then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-city councilor Jose Huizar, formed a voting bloc within the redistribution commission, working in tandem to redistribute the votes. assets in South Los Angeles.

The group voted to remove the vast majority of the downtown district from Councilor Jan Perry, giving it to Huizar, and moved the USC from Councilor Bernard C. Parks to Perry district. Perry left office in 2013 and was replaced by Price. Parks left office in 2015 and was replaced by Harris-Dawson.

Parks and Perry said at the time that they were being punished by Wesson, who they disagreed with. Wesson, in turn, denied that this was the case.

On Tuesday, Bernard Parks Jr., a son of the former city councilor, said he was amused to hear Harris-Dawson and his allies oppose the withdrawal of USC and other institutions in the 8th arrondissement during the redistribution from 2012.

“I’m curious about where he was 10 years ago, when he was a supposed community activist,” said Parks Jr., who worked in his father’s council office for a dozen years.

Harris-Dawson spokesperson Rhonda Mitchell said her boss would not respond to the remarks. Harris-Dawson also declined to discuss the ongoing USC debate.

“At the moment, the board member has nothing to add to the conversation,” she said.

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