03 Apr CD 9 in Hands of South L.A. Voters
By Jesus Andrade and Alberto Retana
On March 5, City Council District 9 had the lowest voter turnout in the city. Citywide voter turnout was low, with only 16% of eligible voters casting a ballot. But in CD 9, which includes some of the poorest communities in Los Angeles, less than 12% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
No candidate secured more than half the votes, triggering a May 21 runoff between state Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles) and Ana Cubas, former chief of staff to Councilman Jose Huizar in CD 14.
The concern for some activists is how the low voter turnout will affect the new council member’s relationship to his or her constituents. “We will definitely lose power if our turnout remains low. We will lose services, street cleaning, recreation and safety to name a few. In Los Angeles, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Rev. William Smart, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles.
The New Ninth
Since redistricting in 2012, CD 9 has seen some changes, but its overall profile remains much the same as before. It includes some of the city’s wealthiest assets and poorest communities. It no longer encompasses downtown’s financial or fashion districts, but now includes the University of Southern California. It also still includes rich cultural landmarks such as Central Avenue and L.A. Live.
But in stark contrast, the median household income is slightly over $29,000, and half of the children in the district live below the poverty line, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 2009 Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority’s Homeless Count reported that CD 9 has by far the greatest number of homeless of any district in the city, with more than 5,100 individuals.
In 2001 the city approved a $1 billion investment to create L.A. Live. These dollars were used to develop downtown, create jobs and help re-build downtown’s image. But many still wait for development in South L.A. For some, this leads to distrust.
“The fact that less than 10,000 people turned out to vote in the CD 9 race indicates years of disconnect and distrust felt by residents towards government. Years of campaign promises and changes in City Hall haven’t provided for the residents of CD 9,” said Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi from the South L.A. Power Coalition.
Martha Sanchez, a parent of three, community leader and member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), agreed. “I don’t trust the politicians; they are not going to do anything for me,” she said. “They only come when they need my vote. There are a lot of residents that are overwhelmed by the problems and have given up hope and believe that nothing is going to change.”
That’s why the work of community groups that are organizing residents — such as Community Coalition, South L.A. Power Coalition, ACCE, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — is so important, activists argue. “We need to organize ourselves,” Sanchez said. “We need to meet with [the councilperson] all the time. We need to get this person involved in the things we do. … We need to show them that we are doing things so that they can commit to the people.”
Andrade is a community organizer and Retana is the executive vice president at Community Coalition.