Opinion: Jewish population of L.A., Valley districts

So, how will Los Angeles’ Jews fare under the proposed City Council District boundaries? The City Redistricting Commission Web site includes information about the ethnic composition of the current and proposed City Council districts based on voter registration lists. These maps, released for public review during the week of Feb. 13, may be changed by the commission before final submission of a proposed map to the City Council, which will then have several months to make its decisions on a redistricting ordinance.

Estimates of registered Jewish voters were produced by using Jewish surnames. This procedure understates Jewish numbers because most Jews do not have a distinctively Jewish name, and, just as important, because the Jewish surnames used in the assessment are Ashkenazi and thus miss other local populations, including Persian-Moroccan and many Israeli Jews.

For my calculations, I turned instead to the 1997 Jewish population survey, which has its own problem: It is 15 years old. Fortunately Jewish population movement in Los Angeles over the past 60 decades has been consistent and gradual, so the survey can at least provides a general sense of the effects of the redistricting on Jewish Los Angeles. ZIP codes are the smallest geographic unit available in the 1997 study, so I assigned the study ZIP codes according to the current and draft City Council District boundaries, adjusting for ZIP codes divided between council districts.

The 5th Council District, now represented by Paul Koretz, is currently the only “Jewish district” and has long been recognized as such. Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslovsky, Mike Feuer and Jack Weiss all entered political office for the first time representing this City Council District. The 5th District currently consists of neighborhoods on both sides of Mulholland Drive; to the south are Fairfax, Beverlywood, Cheviot Hills, Rancho Park, Century City, Westwood, Brentwood, Bel Air, Benedict Canyon and Beverly Crest. In the Valley, the 5th District now includes Valley Village and the “Valley Hills” neighborhoods — those parts of Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana and Woodland Hills that are south of Ventura Boulevard.

The commission’s draft map, released on Feb. 15, would have created a more Jewish 2nd District, while preserving the 5th District. The 5th District proposed last week would have lost Valley Village, Beverly Crest, Benedict Canyon and the “Valley Hills” neighborhoods. In their place, the district would have gained the Miracle Mile, Larchmont and much of Hancock Park. The 5th District of Feb. 15 would have ended at Western Avenue. The overall Jewish population of the 5th District would have remained the same, and the Orthodox Jewish population of the 5th District would have increased by at least 50 percent, thus making it even more Jewish.

The Feb. 15 plan would have created a second potentially Jewish district in the 3rd District. As currently constituted, the 3rd District includes Canoga Park, Winnetka, West Hills, Encino, Reseda, Tarzana and Woodland Hills. It would have lost West Hills but would have added the heavily Jewish neighborhoods south of Ventura Boulevard that currently are part of the 5th District. Based on the 1997 data, the Jewish population of the 3rd District would have increased by 29 percent.

The most recent map, released over the weekend (let’s call it the Presidents Weekend map), reverses most of the proposed changes to the 3rd and 5th Districts.  With the exception of Valley Village, the neighborhoods south of Ventura Boulevard have been returned to the 5th District; this district will still be enlarged to the east but not as much as in the Feb. 15 draft map. Currently, the 5th District ends at Fairfax Avenue. In the Feb. 15 draft map, it would have extended all the way to Western Avenue.  In the Presidents Weekend map, the 5th District now ends at Highland Avenue. This effectively splits the Hancock Park Orthodox community between the 5th District and the 4th District.

One Jewish neighborhood that would be less likely to be part of a district with a strong Jewish presence is Valley Village, which is slated to move from the 5th District into the much less Jewish 2nd District, as the 2nd District has been reconfigured to create a Latino district, exchanging Jewish populations in Studio City and Sherman Oaks for Hispanic populations in Van Nuys and North Hollywood. Based on the City Redistricting Commission data, the Spanish surname population in the 2nd District will increase by 27 percent. Based on the 1997 study, the Jewish population in the 2nd District will decrease by more than 20 percent. This would happen in either version of the draft map.

The revisions made to the Presidents Weekend map are consistent with a long- standing tradition of carving out a “Westside” Jewish district to which some heavily Jewish Valley neighborhoods have been appended. As of 1997, half the Jewish population in Los Angeles County was concentrated in the San Fernando Valley. As of Feb. 15, the proposed new district boundaries would have recognized this reality. A week later, the future has mostly remained the past.

Bruce A. Phillips is a professor of sociology and Jewish communal studies in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Louchheim School of Judaic Studies at USC and Senior Research Fellow at the USC Center for Religion & Civic Culture.