When Los Angeles residents rallied again on Sunday, June 10 to protest the proposed construction of a homeless shelter in the heart of Koreatown, it was only another step in an ongoing bitter battle between the Korean-American community and Los Angeles Council President Herb Wesson.
This battle stems from a controversial decision made by the L.A. City Council in 2012; five years ago. The members of the L.A. City Council redistricted Los Angeles’s 15 districts in a once-in-a-decade process that fractured Koreatown into parts of four separate council districts. This decision dealt a severe blow to Koreatown’s hopes of electing an Asian-American to the City Council – something that has only happened twice in the city’s history – and, as a result, pitted the typically placid Korean-American community against the councilman who spearheaded the effort: Herb Wesson.
The decision immediately sparked accusations of gerrymandering, specifically that along racial lines. And, those accusations were only bolstered, according to an article published by the L.A.Times, by a recording made of Wesson (who is notably the L.A. City Council’s first African-American president) telling a pair of ministers that Los Angeles was districted in such a way that it effectively ensured that “a minimum of two council people will be black for the next 30 years.”
This Korean-American-Wesson conflict reared its head once more when Wesson, along with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, put forth a proposal that would place a temporary homeless shelter right in the center of Koreatown – right next to some of the most popular restaurants and businesses in the entire district. This, of course, raises a host of issues, including the proximity of said shelter to a number of schools within Koreatown – but none so much as the Korean-American community’s complaints that Wesson did not consult them before making the proposal.
Koreatown doesn’t necessarily oppose the construction of a homeless shelter – rather, it’s the surfeit of much more desirable locations for the shelter and the fact that the residents of the community weren’t told about it that are causing most of the anger among Korean-Americans. In comparison to some of the other communities in Los Angeles, Koreatown has one of the lowest homeless populations in the entire city – yet Wesson, who himself claimed the community to have the worst homeless problem in the entirety of Los Angeles, chose the site anyway, and has suffered Korean-Americans’ wrath because of it.
Now, the Korean-American community’s reasoning behind this is that the L.A. City Council specifically chose the community because of its lack of political power, something that has been facilitated by the redistricting of Los Angeles six years ago. This would explain both why Koreatown was chosen over other, much more needy communities and why the residents of the community were not consulted over the proposal before it was made.
Of course, this accusation, like the others against the City Council, has yet to be completely proven true. Yet it’s still clear that there are numerous issues with the homeless shelter proposal and some of the decisions made by the City Council in regards to Koreatown – and not all of them in terms of practicality alone.
This fight against the homeless shelter is not a fight against the homeless. It’s not a fight against Herb Wesson, or any one specific councilman either. This fight is a fight against the L.A. City Council – and for the Korean-American community.
Brandon Kim, Grade 9
Culver City High School