Will LA City Council fiasco lead to redistricting reform?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven October 11, 2022
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

Will LA City Council fiasco lead to redistricting reform?

Racism, redistricting and resignation.

Those were the three R-words that rocked the California political world on Monday, as everyone from Gov. Gavin Newsom to U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla to statewide candidates in the Nov. 8 election weighed in on a leaked 2021 recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times in which three Los Angeles City Council members and an influential local labor leader made racist comments, mocked their colleagues and plotted how to consolidate political power in the city’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

Amid fallout from the recording — in which then-City Council President Nury Martinez can be heard insulting Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ and white people and appearing to threaten the young Black adopted son of a white gay councilmember — Martinez stepped down Monday morning from her leadership position, but not from the council itself.

  • Martinez said in a statement: “I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry. …. As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal.”

That wasn’t enough for many Californians, including Padilla, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, state lawmakers representing Los Angeles, Legislative Diversity Caucus leaders, California Democratic Party officials and prominent organized labor groups.

They called on Martinez — along with city councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera — to immediately resign from their posts. Herrera stepped down Monday night. Today, an hour before a city council meeting, Martinez announced she’s taking a leave of absence.

  • Newsom, however, stopped short of calling for resignations, saying in a statement: “These comments have no place in our state, or in our politics, and we must all model better behavior to live the values that so many of us fight every day to protect.”

The four officials have apologized for their role in the conversation, which the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said was recorded at its offices amid a “serious security and privacy breach” that resulted in “illegal” recordings of “many private and confidential conversations,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, the explosive recording has refocused attention on redistricting in California. In the recording, the officials expressed concern about Los Angeles’ city council districts being redrawn last year to benefit Black residents while disenfranchising Latinos. The remarks, which were peppered with racist commentary, reveal “a sort of concerted effort to dilute the strength of Black voters,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is Black, told the Times.

  • At the state level, an independent commission is charged with the politically perilous task of redrawing the boundaries of legislative, congressional and board of equalization districts every ten years after the U.S. Census to reflect population shifts and protect “communities of interest” — a term that encompasses both racial and ethnic groups and those formed around shared environmental, economic concerns or social concerns
  • The landscape is different at the local level, where lines are drawn for county supervisor, city council and school board districts, among others. About 17.5 million of California’s nearly 40 million residents live in a city or county with an independent redistricting commission, according to one estimate. In other areas, local politicians lead the process — and tend to draw lines benefiting themselves and their party.

To address those concerns, Newsom recently signed bills to create independent redistricting commissions in Fresno, Kern and Riverside counties. However, CalMatters columnist Dan Walters argued Monday they simply “create gerrymanders of a different kind.”

In the city of Los Angeles, a commission appointed by elected officials is tasked with recommending new district lines to the city council, which has the final say over the maps — a system the Los Angeles Times editorial board described as “fundamentally flawed in ways that erode public trust and discourage civic participation.”

For California Common Cause, an advocacy group that pushed for the state’s independent redistricting commission, the leaked tapes demonstrate the need for a similar approach at all levels of government — and serve as a call to action for state lawmakers.

  • Jonathan Mehta Stein, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement: “The manipulation of district lines to serve those in power, at the expense of regular people and communities of color, is not unique to Los Angeles. It occurred across many California cities, counties, and school boards during the most recent redistricting cycle. And it will continue if the state legislature does not take action to put an end to these sorts of democratic abuses through widespread reform of our local redistricting systems.”

Get ready to vote: Find out everything you need to know about voting in California’s Nov. 8 election in the CalMatters Voter Guide, which includes information on races, candidates and propositions, as well as videos, interactives and campaign finance data.


1 A quartet of California election stories

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters after a swearing-in event for College Corps volunteers in Sacramento on Oct. 7, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters in Sacramento on Oct. 7, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

With California’s Nov. 8 election in less than a month, let’s dive into the latest campaign news:

2 Siebel Newsom to testify against Weinstein

First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on May 14, 2022. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters
First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on May 14, 2022. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the governor’s wife, will take the stand against Harvey Weinstein when the convicted rapist and former film producer goes on criminal trial in Los Angeles, the city where he rose to fame and power and allegedly assaulted numerous women, the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press report. Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker and former actress, wrote in a 2017 essay in the Huffington Post that she believed other women’s allegations against Weinstein “based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein.” She continued, “I was naive, new to the industry, and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances,” including “an invitation to meet with him about a role in The Peninsula Hotel, where staff were present and then all of a sudden disappeared like clockwork, leaving me alone with this extremely powerful and intimidating Hollywood legend.”

Jury selection in the Weinstein trial started Monday and is expected to last two weeks. Although Siebel Newsom is not named in court documents, three people with knowledge of the case told the Los Angeles Times she’s referred to as “Jane Doe 4,” who accused Weinstein of forcible rape sometime between September 2004 and September 2005. Weinstein has denied all allegations against him and has said any sexual encounters were consensual.

  • Elizabeth Fegan, Siebel Newsom’s attorney, told the Times: “Like many other women, my client was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein at a purported business meeting that turned out to be a trap. She intends to testify at his trial in order to seek some measure of justice for survivors, and as part of her life’s work to improve the lives of women. Please respect her choice to not further discuss this matter outside of the courtroom.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Some California county redistricting commissions are being stacked to enhance the power of the dominant local party — exactly contrary to the nonpartisan intent of the statewide commission.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Prosecutors file enhanced murder charges against suspect in kidnapping, murder of Merced family. // CBS News

Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave. // Los Angeles Times

Critics say Newsom’s Medicaid reforms leave patients behind. // Kaiser Health News

Overwhelming demand for online classes is reshaping California’s community colleges. // Los Angeles Times

College Corps, with California’s first state-run tutoring initiative, is off and running. // EdSource

The suicide of a star athlete exposed deep problems at Stanford. Students say the university is still ‘turning a blind eye.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Is it apathy or anxiety? What’s keeping some young Californians from voting. // Los Angeles Times

These Bay Area cities could get millions from new taxes on November ballot. // Mercury News

North Hollywood dancers aim to be only unionized strippers in U.S. // Daily News

As warehouses multiply, some California cities say: Enough. // New York Times

California wildfires spur new real estate development guidelines. // Bloomberg

Emissions at ports of L.A., Long Beach rise ‘significantly’ since 2020, reports say. // Daily News

Train from Los Angeles to Palm Springs area — at a $1 billion cost — planned. // Daily News

California’s drought withers tomatoes, pushing grocery prices higher. // Reuters

A California city’s water supply is expected to run out in two months. // Washington Post

2,560-pound pumpkin wins California contest; sets record. // ABC News

See you tomorrow


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