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.

Making the Grade

Jewish parents have good reason to be interested in public school test scores released by the California Department of Education on Aug. 31, although they may need help deciphering them.

In 1997, the last time a study was done, The Jewish Federation found that 64 percent of Jewish children attended public schools in the Los Angeles area. Given rising security and insurance costs since then, and a far weaker state economy, that number is probably at least as high now.

There are basically two flavors of tests involved: those based on state standards and those on federal standards called Adequate Yearly Progress, which are tied to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB penalizes schools or entire districts that don’t improve fast enough.

Six entire districts and 36 percent of all schools in California failed to satisfy NCLB requirements on the spring 2004 tests. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is fortunately not among them, but the tests show that even its improvement is slowing.

"The growth is there, but after having four very good years it was somewhat disappointing," said Esther Wong, assistant superintendent for planning, assessment, and research at LAUSD.

Elementary and high school test numbers reached a "plateau" at LAUSD, Wong said.

"It would have been surprising if the [district’s] numbers had been better," said Howard Lappin, who was the principal of Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles for 12 years. He helped transform Foshay from a failing school into a national success story by adhering to strict measures of progress — he says LAUSD needs more of the same.

"My wife works at Heschel [Day School] — the kids at Heschel are going to do a lot better than the kids where I was at Foshay, and Foshay did much better than [other public schools]," said Lappin, who explained that there’s no gap between what the kids can accomplish at those schools, but rather that "We as educators have to stop making excuses for failure."

Lappin, a lifelong educator, should be taken seriously. Whether NCLB is the best way to set standards — requiring 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 without providing schools any additional funds — is a lot less clear.

To see how your local school did on the tests, go to www.latimes.com/schoolscores.

Money Problem Closes Valley Hospital

For Californians, only the best medical care will do, at least in theory: Our hospitals must not collapse during an earthquake. No nurse in an ER must ever be responsible for more than four patients at a time. And if you arrive at a private hospital in Los Angeles County with no insurance, they cannot simply transfer you to a county facility.

Sounds great. Unfortunately, 70 hospitals have closed over the past decade in California, six of those in Los Angeles alone since January, partly because they couldn’t afford those improvements.

Here’s the latest: Northridge Hospital Medical Center’s Sherman Way Campus in Van Nuys, the oldest hospital in the Valley, announced on Aug. 19 that it will shut down by the end of the year. The large Jewish communities in the East Valley can receive their care from the next nearest facility, Valley Presbyterian Hospital.

"The life is being sucked out of [the system] even to deal with normal demand. [In a] regional emergency, an earthquake or a terrorist attack, where will we put people who need a hospital?" County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "The pressure on the remaining facilities is growing to the breaking point."

The mandated renovations will cost hospitals at least $24 billion, and the nursing ratios will run them about $1 billion per month. But the problem goes far beyond expensive regulations.

The insurance issue is the real problem. Private hospitals can’t secure loans to pay for building improvements if creditors don’t trust them to pay back the money. If one-third of the people in Los Angeles lack health insurance, then hospitals stay equally poor: They must then depend on state Medicaid reimbursements instead (which in California in 2000 came to $2,068 per patient compared to $7,609 in New York).

"We are each only a drunk driver away from needing a trauma center and a heart attack away from needing an emergency room," Yaroslavsky said. "And if the ER closest to you was [the closing] Northridge Hospital or Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital or Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and the next nearest ERs are overcrowded, you could literally be in an ambulance calling ER after ER, asking ‘Are you open?’"

Welcome to the GOP Revolution

"The convention floor was dotted with kippot," said Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Southern California, about the Republican extravaganza in Madison Square Garden.

According to one unofficial estimate, about 170 Jewish Californians acted as party delegates. "I think we were all saying to each other, ‘Wow, what enthusiasm, what commitment, what pride we have as Republicans,’" Greenfield said.

In a Cheviot Hills rally organized by the Bush/Cheney team on Sept. 9, talk show host Dennis Prager said Jewish Republicans are "at the cusp of a revolution in Jewish life."

Prager told the crowd of about 100, "We feel for [Democrats] benign contempt: You haven’t thought clearly and therefore you’re a Democrat."

Prager said that there is no such thing as a well-thought out liberal opinion, and that many older Jews vote Democratic because they still believe they’re voting for FDR.