Koreatown activists are threatening to sue the city of Los Angeles over its planned new district maps that, if approved, they say would disenfranchise many of the Asian Americans living there.
Pro bono lawyers for the firms Akin Gump and Bird Marella are gathering facts to prepare a complaint if Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs off on the new city district boundaries, which decide how much of a voice residents have in government decisions for the next 10 years.
Activists accuse city leaders of redrawing the maps based on race, possibly violating the federal Voting Rights Act; drafting the plans behind closed doors; unfairly dividing communities and disregarding public testimony, said Hyongsoon Kim, a lawyer representing Koreatown activists.
The accusations stem from a recent Los Angeles City Council vote approving the new districts. The council gave preliminary approval of the plans during a contentious meeting on March 16 at which hundreds of people over three hours of public testimony complained the maps did not represent their communities.
The Los Angeles City Charter requires the city redraw the boundaries that set City Council districts lines at least once every 10 years. A 21-member redistricting commission recommends a plan for City Council approval.
The City Council is expected to give a final vote to the proposed maps on May 11. If approved, the mayor is expected to either sign off or veto the plan by the end of May.
City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has opposed the new district maps, supports the Koreatown activists.
"If ultimately the maps are approved, we should all consider every option available," Perry said.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks has also threatened a lawsuit over what he says is a "racially motivated assault."
He said redistricting is an important issue for residents because it decides voting strength, where a neighborhood's economic centers are located, and whether people live in communities they relate to.
"That's the only way to change that particular momentum is to sue," he said. "I think they should. They see this as major disenfranchisement."