Korean activists and community organizers were among a group of about 200 or so who crowded into Los Angeles’ City Hall this past week to make their voices heard as members of the City Council met to discuss what has become a highly controversial redistricting process.
Clad in bright-yellow “I Love K-Town” T-shirts, the group pressed council members on a potential redrawing of the landmark Korean district, calling for it to be merged with a neighboring district that is home to a large Asian population. Doing so, they say, would heighten the prospect of electing the first Asian representative to the council.
Koreatown is currently split between Council Districts 1, 4, 10 and 13. Council President Herb Wesson, who has long represented District 10, is pushing for a larger chunk of the area, a move many Koreans reject, preferring instead to merge with neighboring districts 4 and 13.
The once-a-decade redistricting process was introduced through the 1965 Voting Rights Act and is intended to ensure that political lines are in accord with a city’s demographic shifts.
The Korean American Coalition in Los Angeles and the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council were among a number of groups present at the meeting. Activists say they are determined to deliver their message to council members, adding that if their demands are not met they plan to “take the matter to court.”
Robert Park is a student at UCLA. He says his parents run a small restaurant in Koreatown, adding they often complain about “business being difficult these days,” something they attribute to the fact that the concerns of Korean residents are often “not reflected in decisions taken by the council.”
Park adds that Koreatown, scarred by litter and graffiti and lacking public amenities, is “not a desirable place to live anymore.”
Yu-cheol Jin, a member of the Southern California Christian Association, was also at the meeting to demand, in his words, “justice and equality.”
That same sentiment was echoed by Gyu-seob Um, pastor for the Wilshire Christian Church. Um also noted that the population of Koreatown -- which lies in district 10 -- is 51 percent Black and 9 percent Asian.
“If the lines are redrawn to include District 13 (home to a large number of Filipinos and Thais), then the Asian population jumps to over 30 percent,” he said, adding the demands of Koreans in the district have “mostly fallen on deaf ears.”
Peter Park, with the Koreatown Senior Center, said he’s “lost trust” in Council President Wesson, who according to the Los Angeles Times raised one-third of some $84,000 in campaign contributions last year from the Korean community.
Councilmember Jan Perry of District 9 and Bernard Parks of District 8 were also at the meeting, along with members from the Thai, Latino and African American communities to show support for Korean demands.
Parks, who is African American, told reporters that he would “continue to support” the Korean community’s claims that the process behind the redrawing of legislative maps was unfair.
The City Council’s 15 members plan to hold a final vote on the matter this coming March 16, though with the ongoing controversy there is talk of pushing back the date.
Grace Yoo from the Korean American Coalition said, “I had a meeting with Eric Garcetti (of District 13) and Tom LaBonge (of District 4) to convey the community’s concerns.”
She says before the final vote, she intends to continue meeting with council members in order to ensure that the voices of Korean residents and businesses are heard.
“20 years ago, after the Los Angeles riots, the city refused to renew permits for Korean businesses,” says Byung-soo Min, an attorney who works closely with the Korean community. “A group of 11 business owners sued the city and eventually won,” he recalls, adding the same could happen this time around.
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