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Discontent in Koreatown

By Aaron Blevins, 3/15/2012

Members of Korean American Community Want Area Placed in One District

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Animosity toward their Los Angeles City Council representation has boiled over in Koreatown, to the point that 700 Koreatown residents protested at a post-draft Redistricting Commission hearing at the beginning of February. Hundreds also turned out for a March 7 council meeting.

Members of the Korean American Coalition gathered at city hall on March 7 to advocate that Koreatown be drawn into one district. (photo courtesy of the Korean American Coalition)

Residents are advocating for additional resources for its poor, more services for those who speak limited English and a chance to elect an Asian American candidate to the city council, said Grace Yoo, executive director of Korean American Coalition-Los Angeles. She said the lack of attention and representation has been an ongoing problem.

“I think it finally came to a head during the redistricting process,” Yoo said.

She said hundreds of Korean Americans and Koreatown residents have turned out for the council’s redistricting hearings, hoping to pave the way for an Asian American to make a potential run for city council and win. Yoo cited city efforts to create Latino and African-American districts.

“Forget a district, we can’t even get one where we have the potential to get a chance,” she said. “They continue to fracture us.”

Whereas some district lines have been redrawn to include a majority Latino or African American vote, Asian Pacific Islander residents in Koreatown want to be in a district that has a citizen voter age population of more than 30 percent, Yoo said. Currently, Koreatown is divided into Council Districts 1, 4, 10 and 13. The current proposed map divides the area into Districts 4, 10 and 13. The council is slated to vote on the current map on Friday.

“Who knows what the city council will do? I can tell you they’re certainly not going to keep [Koreatown] in one,” Yoo said.

While they acknowledge that some of the city’s many neighborhood councils will be split into separate council districts, Koreatown residents were pushing for the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council to be in one district, she said. However, Council District 10’s appointed redistricting commissioner said that’s not what the residents want, which infuriated residents, Yoo said.

She said the neighborhood council’s area is larger than the city’s definition of Koreatown, and the commissioner suggested that they wanted the smaller, city-defined area to remain in one district. Yoo said it was a perfect example of the city not taking Koreatown’s wants and needs into account.

“You’re not listening to us,” she said. “If you were listening to us, I don’t think there would be this anger.”

Yoo said the Los Angeles Police Department has come to understand the special needs of Koreatown. The area had been patrolled by three divisions until the Olympic Division took over its jurisdiction in 2009, she said. Now, Koreatown’s crime statistics are better and LAPD is able to meet the area’s language needs, Yoo said.

“Unless you’ve been to another country where you’ve been the minority and not a native speaker, then you wouldn’t understand,” she added. “Don’t try to peg us by race.”

Additionally, Yoo said Koreatown is a very poor immigrant area that could benefit from more city assistance.

According to representatives of Council President Herb Wesson, 10th District, the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council is likely the largest neighborhood council in the city. Approximately 74 percent of Koreatown’s population is Latino, according to Wesson’s office. Yoo said 35 percent of Koreatown’s population is Asian Pacific Islander, and that the area’s Latino population is greater than 50 percent.

 

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