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LA's Latest Redistricting Plan Makes Koreatown Whole, But Troubles Other Asian Hubs

A color-coded map shows the proposed new boundaries for LA's city council districts
Angelenos can give public comment on a draft council district map from the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission.
(Screenshot of Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission draft map)
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As they’ve worked to redraw L.A.’s political map, city redistricting commissioners have heard often and passionately from supporters of uniting Koreatown in one council district — a neighborhood split for decades among multiple councilmembers.

A draft map moves the entire neighborhood into Council District 10, leading one of the leaders of the Koreatown campaign, Connie Chung Joe, to express general approval of the new working boundaries at a meeting of the redistricting panel on Wednesday.

But the same map is now creating alarm in other hubs for Asian Angelenos, including Chinatown, part of which would be split off from CD 1 and placed in CD 14. Meanwhile, Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown would remain in CD 13, but acquire new wealthier neighbors from Los Feliz.

These changes prompted Joe, who is executive director of the civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, to tell commissioners to “respect the Asian Pacific Islander community, our representation in the city and in city council.”

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Disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable voters is what worries Yelena Zeltser, policy coordinator for the Southeast Asian Community Alliance in Chinatown.

The draft map breaks off a small section of Chinatown by where Cesar Chavez Avenue and Ord Street meet, an area she says is home to hundreds of the neighborhood’s lower-income, older immigrants. Seniors from Vietnam, China and Cambodia are concentrated there, living in single-room occupancy and subsidized housing.

Draft map of Council District 13 where the district is lavendar-colored in an otherwise gray-scale map.
A draft map of Council District 1 has part of Chinatown moving into an adjacent district
(Screenshot of draft map from Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission)

Zeltser says dividing Chinatown between two council members — Gil Cedillo in CD 1 and Kevin de León in CD 14 — will make it even more difficult to advocate for these residents, many of whom struggle with their landlords over habitability issues and breathe some of the worst air in the city because the neighborhood is bound by freeways.

“[Chinatown is] also facing a lot of gentrification pressure, a lot of evictions of low income tenants, economic development issues,” Zeltser says. “So in order for the community to be able to advocate for itself, it’s really, really important that we are kept together.”

Shops in LA's Chinatown have plans, umbrellas, tatami mats, screens and other wares on display on the sidewalk. A yellow tarp is stretched over poles at the store on the left.
The entirety of Chinatown is currently located in Council District 1.
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Similar concerns are driving community leaders in Thai Town, a six-block stretch in East Hollywood, and Historic Filipinotown, just northwest of downtown, to demand changes to the draft map, which has reconfigured CD 13 to add Los Feliz.

Chanchanit Martorell, as executive director of the Thai Community Development Centeradvocates for Thai immigrants who work at restaurants and run mom ‘n' pop businesses. She said about 4,000 Thai workers live in and around Thai Town and are mostly renters with little in common with the affluent homeowners to the northeast of them.

A draft map of CD 13 keeps Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown and adds Los Feliz.
(Screenshot of Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission draft map)
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“We would just feel so invisible,’ Martorell said. “The Thai community really has this invisibility factor that needs to be overcome. We think of ourselves as the minor minority, when even compared to the rest of the API community.”

Martorell and other Asian American leaders hold out hope that commissioners will move Koreatown into the same district as Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown to build a corridor of Asian American political power.

“That would strengthen our API voice and representation,” said Punnpavin Herabat, who oversees redistricting policy at the Thai development center. “So that's basically what we're aiming for right now.”

The Thai community leaders suggest making space for Koreatown by swapping out Los Feliz, Elysian Valley and Atwater Village.

As for other Asian American hubs in Los Angeles, the draft map does not appear to create much change. Little Tokyo remains intact in Council District 14. Little Bangladesh, several blocks surrounded by Koreatown, would stay in CD 10.

The public can comment at virtual hearings on the proposed map through Oct. 16.

Correction: Story has been corrected to say Los Feliz is northeast of Thai Town.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.