The Los Angeles City Council leaked audio scandal caused significant harm across communities and highlighted disparities in how our government operates. Our city's challenges are more profound than the three council members captured on tape, as the laws that govern their actions have created a system in which prejudice and personal advancement can be prioritized over the public good. Therefore, it is essential to go beyond mere resignations and create a new vision of city governance rooted in and shaped by the perspectives of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and low-income Angelenos. In response to this charge, the Organize | Unite | Reform LA (OUR LA) coalition was formed. OUR LA is a multiracial, multi-generational, and multi-intersectional coalition of community-based organizations and racial justice advocates committed to community voice, multiracial solidarity, power-building, racial equity, structural reform, and transparency. Last spring, OUR LA launched a critical survey to learn how Angelenos would transform our governance systems to realize a more racially and economically equitable Los Angeles.
The “Representation in LA City Survey (March 2023)” survey asked Angelenos their attitudes on how well the LA City Council currently represents them and their opinions on two potential reform measures in Los Angeles—an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) and expanding the number of city council members. Additionally, the survey asked for their opinions on what LA City Council could change to represent their identities, interests, and needs more effectively. The results show that survey participants lack trust and representation in LA City Council and desire council members that better reflect their identities and experiences. And while they share some concerns about reform measures, they overwhelmingly have hope that reforms could improve their representation on LA City Council descriptively and substantively.
Thank you to the LA City people who took the time to participate in the survey and provide us with their vital feedback. Reforms in our city must be grounded in their voices and experiences.
The “Representation in LA City Survey (March 2023)” survey was available online between March 18th and April 28th, 2023 for LA City residents. The survey was translated into multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, Thai, and Hindi. OUR LA Coalition partners distributed the survey through a series of convenings with LA City residents where residents learned about and discussed reform options in Los Angeles City. Participants in the convenings were also asked to share the survey with their social networks. The OUR LA Coalition and their partners additionally circulated the survey during their regular programs as well as through their social media accounts and email lists.
A total of 2,518 people attempted to take the survey. Out of these people, 1,760 were eligible to take the survey based on living in LA City and being over the age of 18. Survey responses were also screened for invalid responses and nonresponse. A total of 1,067 surveys were included in analysis after data screening.
- In data cleaning, we flagged instances where people attempted to take the survey multiple times, recorded gibberish in their answers, did not actually reside in LA City, or left a large portion of the survey blank.
- 353 survey responses were deemed invalid while an additional 340 were omitted due to nonresponse. Out of these 1,067 surveys included in the quantitative component of the data, only 556 surveys were included in the qualitative component if they had at least one open-ended question answered of the seven total open-ended questions. Of the 556 respondents that answered the open-ended questions, 127 answered in Spanish, 19 in Chinese, 4 in Korean, and 1 in Tagalog. All the responses were translated using professional translation services or through native speakers from the OUR LA Coalition partners.
Demographic data of survey respondents were analyzed to determine representativeness of the data compared to the LA City population. Survey respondents underrepresent Latinx and Asian residents and overrepresent White residents in LA City. The percentage of Black survey respondents to LA City demographics was comparable. Latinx and White participants were more likely to answer open-ended questions while fewer Black and Asian participants answered open-ended questions. When analyzing the data, responses are compared by race and ethnicity to identify differences in how different racial groups may feel about representation and reform options. Margins of error, or the degree of uncertainty in each estimate, are calculated to help identify and narrow in on findings that point to significant differences. When analyzing participants’ open-ended responses, each of their responses was read multiple times and coded into categories to identify emerging themes and insights by two analysts. We use pseudo names in this report to protect respondents’ personal information.
Finding 1: People surveyed do not feel represented by LA City Council and want greater representation.
Across racial groups, people do not feel represented by City Council though the lack of representation is shared even more acutely among BIPOC groups. In their responses, people describe a desire to feel more represented by City Council not only in terms of their racial or gender identities, but also by their income, housing status, and more.
People do not feel represented descriptively or substantively.
Overall, a large percentage of people do not feel LA City Council adequately represents them, whether it be based on their identity or how well City Council responds to their interests and needs. However, BIPOC people report more frequently that City Council represents them either not at all or only a little.
- When asked how well LA City Council represents you, Black people are most likely to report that City Council represents them either not at all or only a little in terms of their identity, needs, and interests.
- Black, Asian, and Latinx respondents are significantly more likely to report than White respondents that LA City Council takes action to respond to their needs either not at all or only a little. Up to 59% of Black people report that City Council responds to their needs not at all or only a little compared to only 35% of White people.
- When asked how well does LA City Council represent your interests, over half (55%) of Black people said City Council does this not at all or only a little compared to 39% of White people.
- While Asian people had an even lower rate than White respondents, the margin of error, or degree of uncertainty, in the estimate for Asian respondents was much larger, meaning we are less certain in that estimate.
Across racial groups, people want to see better and more equitable community representation on LA City Council.
When asked what would make them feel more represented, people across racial groups largely share a sentiment of not feeling heard by City Council and shared a desire for better representation. They talk about having more council members who truly represent the community, who have been in ‘their shoes’ and come from the communities they represent, and who are diverse in their identities. The ways in which people describe wanting to feel represented branch across a variety of dimensions from race and gender to housing status, income, and tribal identities.
- About 94 respondents shared that they need a council that includes members who truly represent the community, including mention of tribal communities. Among American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) respondents, tribal representation was needed in the community. Mika, an AIAN woman, stated: “Given LA has the largest urban Native population in the entire country, the council should have a Native representative that represents the non-geographic community.”
- A total of 114 respondents shared the sentiment that a City Council is needed that is inclusive of diverse members and identities (racial, ethnic, gender, income, housing status, political, and age diversity). Elijah, a Black man, added, “In addition to racial/gender diversity, we need people with backgrounds that reflect the City’s population. That means more renters, people from impoverished backgrounds, first generation or with similar lived experiences that reflect those they represent.”
- The need for creating a City Council with more community representation was most pressing among Black, Asian, and AIAN respondents. When asked what could change to have City Council members look more like you, Alisha, a Black woman, shared, “More Black women, people from impacted communities, people who care about the needs and lives of marginalized people and not intent on criminalizing us.”
- All analysis of open-ended responses in this report are provided courtesy of Carlos Chavez, F. L., Khan, M. June 2023. Using a Qualitative Approach to Incorporate the Voices and Perceptions of LA City People about LA City Council Representation and their Views Toward Independent Redistricting Commission [IRC], Catalyst California.
Finding 2: People surveyed support an IRC in LA City and think it could make a difference in their representation.
When asked how much they support creating an IRC, people broadly support this reform measure. Similarly, when asked how much they think an IRC could affect how well City Council represents them, the majority believe it would have a positive effect. However, Black people are less confident in how much an IRC could positively affect the City Council responding to their needs.
Survey respondents also have ideas for what could help them or people like them get involved in an IRC, and while supportive of an IRC, some are concerned that it could lead to no difference in the city.
People strongly support an IRC in LA City.
Survey respondents overwhelmingly support creating an IRC in LA City. The degree of support for an IRC varies slightly by race. In fact, BIPOC people are significantly more likely to oppose creating an IRC compared to White people though this group represents a small share of BIPOC people. Based on open-ended responses, this difference between racial groups likely reflects more uncertainty among the BIPOC community in how effective an IRC could be given general distrust in city government.
- 65% of respondents somewhat or strongly support an IRC while only 12% oppose the creation of an IRC.
- Almost 1 in 4 (24%) respondents are undecided about creating an IRC.
- 15% of BIPOC respondents oppose the creation of an IRC while 8% of respondents who identified as White oppose the creation of an IRC. By comparison, 62% of BIPOC respondents support creating an IRC.
- BIPOC includes participants who identified as Asian, Black, Latinx, NHPI, AIAN, or MENA.
- When asked about what concerns they have about creating an IRC in LA City, Asian, Latinx, and Black respondents were likely to describe concerns about the effectiveness of an IRC addressing community needs and operational mismanagement such as “secret agendas” impacting the IRC.
People think an IRC could have a positive effect on representation.
Survey respondents generally believe an IRC will have a positive effect on their representation. Some racial groups are more confident than others in how much an IRC will affect how well City Council represents them. For example, Black survey respondents are significantly less likely than White respondents to believe that an IRC will positively affect how well City Council takes action to respond to their needs. This could be explained by greater doubts from the BIPOC community in how effectively an IRC could address their community needs versus becoming another “politicized body”.
- More than 60% of survey respondents feel that an IRC will have a positive impact in terms of reflecting their identity, representing their interests, and responding to their needs while less than 15% of people think otherwise.
- White respondents are 1.4 times more likely than Black respondents to believe an IRC could have a positive effect on how well City Council responds to their needs.
- While Asian and AIAN respondents have the highest rates of reporting an IRC will positively affect how well City Council responds to their needs, at rates of 73% and 68% respectively, their estimates have a higher range of uncertainty.
People need resources, training, and information to serve on and participate in an IRC.
When asked what could help them or people like them participate in an IRC, people describe different types of support that would enable them to serve on or engage with an IRC. From requesting monetary compensation to translation services to safety, many respondents feel that they would be unable to get involved in an IRC process because they lack the resources to do so. In their responses, people also describe the need for communication, information, and training about the IRC and respective expectations for IRC members.
- Jonah, a Black man, provided an example of the support he would need to be able to participate in an IRC: “It would definitely take the government giving us our reparations so that I could have the time to serve as a IRC city counsel. However with bills due, me being homeless, jobless, and basically barely making it I doubt it I’ll have the drive to even do so.” This sentiment on needing tangible support, was further supported by Joe, a White man: “If I could be offered tax breaks or increased transportation benefits, I would be willing to participate.”
- Others mentioned some type of housing or financial support needed in order to engage with an IRC. Carter, a Black man, stated: “I think more housing support could be offered to entice us to participate in the IRC.”
- Across all races and ethnic groups, the need for support was present. Respondents provided clear examples of how this support may manifest. Ricardo, a Latinx man, provided several examples: “Maybe some sort of compensation for those serving on an IRC or some way to make it easier for them to navigate the current LA governance system. If I am working class person who is a parent or has multiple jobs, I would want to serve on an IRC but things like money, daycare, and dealing with layers of bureaucracy may make it harder for me to be involved. If it were made easier to be involved by providing additional resources and services, that might help bridge the gap.”
- Latinx and Asian respondents most frequently raised ideas for communication and meetings between the IRC and the community (e.g., accessible meeting locations for community members and translation). Elena, a Latinx woman, stated: “The meetings should be held within the same community in strategic places accessible by public transportation and in Spanish and at accessible times.”
Finding 3: People surveyed support expanding LA City Council and are hopeful about the effect on representation.
People broadly support expanding City Council. They also believe expanding the City Council could have a positive effect on how well the City Council represents them. However, again, Black people are less confident in the potential impact of this reform.
While people are largely hopeful about the potential positive impact of council expansion, many survey respondents are also aware of possible pitfalls with this reform. Some express concerns over corruption and hidden agendas, the operational costs of expansions, the potential for underrepresentation for certain communities, and slowing of decisions. Their responses reveal a general distrust in the City Council.
People support seat expansion.
Survey respondents largely support expanding the City Council whether it be by increasing the total number of districts or the number of members per district. However, White people are significantly more likely to oppose expanding City Council compared to BIPOC people though they still overwhelming support this reform.
- 58% of all survey respondents support expanding City Council while 25% of respondents oppose expanding City Council.
- 18% of respondents were unsure if they supported or opposed expanding City Council.
- White people are 1.4 times more likely to oppose expanding City Council, at 28%, compared to BIPOC people at 20%. However, the majority of both White and BIPOC people support expanding City Council, at 54% and 63% respectively.
People surveyed think seat expansion could have an impact on representation.
People believe expanding the City Council will have a positive effect on how well the City Council represents them. However, the belief that seat expansion will positively impact how well needs are addressed by government varies across racial groups. Additionally, White people believe that a single council member should represent a larger number of people compared to BIPOC people, who prefer the number of constituents being represented by a single council member to be smaller.
- More than 50% of survey respondents think that expanding the City Council will have a positive effect on how well the City Council reflects their identity, represents their interests, and responds to their needs.
- White people are 1.3 times more likely to believe council expansion will have a positive effect on their needs being met compared to Black people (58% compared to 44%, respectively).
- While other racial groups had even higher rates than White respondents, the margin of error, or degree of uncertainty, in those estimates was larger, meaning we are less certain in differences between those groups.
- White people are nearly twice as likely to believe that a single city council district member should represent 201,000-260,000 or over 260,000 constituents compared to BIPOC people.
- 18% of White people responded that City Council members should represent 201,000-260,000 constituents, and 14% said that City Council members should represent over 260,000 constituents. Only 9% of BIPOC respondents responded that councilmembers should represent 201,000-260,000 constituents, and 8% said that council members should represent over 260,000 constituents.
Corruption, a misuse of funds, higher operational costs, and slowing actions are some concerns people have about City Council expansion.
When asked about what concerns they may have about expanding the City Council, people describe concerns ranging from themes of accountability and transparency to inaction. While these sentiments are shared across racial groups, Black and Latinx respondents most frequently raise concerns about the operational costs of expansion and White and Asian respondents are most doubtful about expansion creating change. Many respondents also shared no concerns about expansion and expressed hope that council expansion would lead to greater responsiveness and accountability of council members to their communities.
- The costs of expansion were shared as a concern for some. Yolanda, a Latinx woman, shared, “My only concern would be economical. Would it be a financial hardship? Other than that, I believe we could do better by expanding. Just like in schools where teacher to student ratio plays a big part in the success of the students and the school, the ratio of council members to community members also plays a big part in the success of a community.”
- Respondents shared doubts that this change could positively impact their communities. Smaller populations and underrepresented communities expressed this concern specifically. For example, Rita, an Asian woman, added, “My concerns are that because AAPI communities are often small and diverse and that we will continue to be split on various levels, not giving our communities the opportunity to build together through similar interests and issues. How do we find a balance between representation and voice? Council members, even with small API populations, should understand and engage with the API communities they represent.” Similarly, some Black respondents also shared this sentiment. Darious, a Black man, expressed his concern: “I’m concerned that under represented communities will be further disenfranchised. More does not equal better representation.”
- People are also concerned that more elected officials may cause difficulty in the decision-making process and slow it down. Joshua, a multiracial man, said, “Adding more people to a decision making body has pluses and negatives. When decisive action is need, will we be able to activate a larger city council, each member with constituents with varying needs and priorities?”
Finding 4: People overwhelmingly lack trust in the city and have ideas for equitable representation.
Across the survey, people were asked to share their thoughts on what changes City Council could make to align better with their identity, interests and needs. In their responses, people describe a general distrust in the city and a need for greater communication and accountability to the community. While unrelated to reforming City Council, they shared general disappointment with responsiveness to community issues.
People share a sense of hopelessness and lack of trust in seeing changes in LA City Council that will serve their interests and needs.
Irrespective of the questions asked, people openly describe a general distrust in LA City Council and skepticism about change occurring. In the past few years, the residents of LA City have seen numerous council members arrested on counts of corruption and council members admitting to abusing their political power in office. And for years long before these inequitable practices came to surface, communities fought for greater representation of their interests and needs on the council. While it is unfortunate that sentiments such as lack of trust and hopelessness came up from community responses, it is unsurprising to hear these concerns after events that threaten the level of trust a community can have in their elected offices. Trust is a delicate foundation holding the thread to civic engagement and democratic power in Los Angeles.
- When asked about how to get to a City Council with greater representation and alignment with community identity, interests, and needs, Michael, a White man, shared, “I think we could have an independent inspector general for City Hall. We're sick and tired of corruption.” In this category of questions alone, 157 total respondents called for greater transparency, accountability, and respective policy reforms.
- When asked about forming an IRC, respondents still described sentiments of a lack of trust. 86 respondents in total shared concerns about hidden agendas and outside influences threatening a truly equitable IRC process. Tang, an Asian woman, stated: “That it [An IRC] will become just another bureaucracy or highly politicized body.”
- The strategy to expand council districts is met with the same mistrust and hopelessness by some respondents. 91 respondents shared a theme of being unhopeful about creating change for the community and 50 respondents shared concerns over corruption, misuse of funds, lack of trust and transparency. Rosa, a Latinx woman, added: “We have had too many cases of corruption in council and people serving their own interests instead of the people’s. Increasing the # of Council members doesn’t prevent this from happening or even getting worse. There needs to be a clean up in city hall. It’s not just the electeds, it’s the people around them that facilitate the criminal acts.”
People would like to see improvements to LA City Council’s election process.
When asked about what changes City Council could make to better represent them, people voluntarily mention ideas and strategies on improving the city council members’ election process the most with 506 references and many directed towards City Council expansion. People across racial groups share this call for improving election processes.
- People described the City Council needing to create opportunities to interact, communicate, and let the community know more about the election process by bridging the gap between community and City Council. Ana, a Latinx woman, commented, “I would first like the councilmembers to be accessible to our community and visit the community. For example, if one speaks to them looking for a positive response because the truth is I have had a very bad experience with that.”
- Other explicit ways mentioned to improve the election process are language/translation services, information sharing sessions, youth involvement, funding regulations and overall ethics regulations. Robin, a White man, stated, “Stronger ethics regulations. An ethics commission with greater enforcement powers. A Neighborhood Council system with veto power over the City Council - something within reason. Greater disclosure on who they are meeting with on top of existing CPRA regulations.”
People do not feel heard by their LA City Councilmembers and want more opportunities to engage with them.
People report that they do not feel listened to or heard, their voices are not valued, and there is a lack of forums and opportunities to share their thoughts with the City Council. Participants largely want: better ways and opportunities for communication between the community and City Council (i.e., meetings, in-person or online platforms); council members that truly listen to community voices; and council members that are willing to get involved and visit local neighborhoods.
- A total of 441 references were recorded about respondents not feeling heard by the city. Not feeling heard by the city was most pressing for Latinx, Asian, AIAN, and Black people. Almost half of the respondents in each of these racial groups shared that they would like to see ways for City Council to better communicate with them and address their needs. Sky, an American Indian/Alaska Native woman, stated: “Listen to the voice of the people and do more practical things.”
- People emphasized the need for council members to listen to and visit constituencies. Tomu, an Asian woman, added: “I would feel more heard if LA City Council members made efforts to listen to their AAPI constituents by hosting specific targeted events, attending AAPI cultural events, and working with AAPI organizations on policy and program initiatives.”
- Respondents shared ideas for better communication from the city, ranging from more transparent information to the involvement of residents to more engagement opportunities in their local neighborhoods.
Conclusion and the Work Forward
The survey findings elevate critical takeaways for policymakers and advocates to consider when developing LA City government reforms. First, most survey participants lack trust in city government and therefore hold concerns about any reform efforts, given their own experiences with and/or knowledge of past corruption, inaction by city officials to address their needs, and lack of representation and direct engagement with their respective communities by elected officials. This is mostly significantly felt among BIPOC communities, particularly Black Angelenos. Second, despite the concerns and lack of trust raised by participants, there is support and hope for opportunities to transform city government to become more representative, responsive, and accountable in addressing the issues and needs of LA’s diverse communities. Lastly, creating an IRC and expanding LA City Council is supported by most survey participants and is seen as likely to have a positive impact on their representation. However, how these reforms are designed, developed, and implemented will be the key to ensuring they result in the transformation survey participants hope to see in their city government.
OUR LA is integrating a racial and economic equity lens in developing policy recommendations for an IRC and seat expansion to the LA City Council by centering the experiences, needs, and priorities of low-income BIPOC Angelenos. Resident feedback gathered through this survey and the four in-person community convenings held in March in the Eastside, Central Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, and South Los Angeles are the primary sources from which to identify and shape our policy recommendations. Two workgroups led by partners from OUR LA are underway, focused on an IRC and seat expansion recommendations. Each are analyzing the findings and themes from the survey and the convenings, conducting additional research, and integrating our coalition’s values and goals into drafting recommendations. Draft recommendations will then be presented to community partners and residents across the city in late summer to gauge alignment, gather feedback, and further refine the policy recommendations before presenting these to the LA City Council.
Thank you to our partners for collecting surveys:
Thank you to our generous supporters:
Thank you to our consultant Fiorella L. Carlos Chavez, Ph.D. for her expertise and providing the qualitative analysis of participants' open-ended responses.
The majority of respondents identified as White (56.8%) followed by Latinx (19.8%). Overall, the percentage of Black survey respondents (8.5%) was similar compared to the percentage of Black adults in the city. However, survey respondents underrepresented Latinx and Asian residents (6%). Additionally, the majority of respondents answered the survey in English (84%) followed by Spanish (12%). A few survey respondents answered the survey in Chinese, Korean, and Tagalog. Looking at the age of survey respondents, the majority of respondents were between the ages of 25-34 (32%) followed by 35-44 (28%). Survey respondents underrepresented the LA City population who are between the ages of 18-24 and 65+. In other words, the youth and older population of LA City were underrepresented in the survey. And, survey participants overrepresented women in the city.
Our respondents were more likely to be in the middle-income bracket than lower- and upper-income brackets. Survey respondents who answered open-ended questions were more likely to earn between $0-$24,000 and $25,000-74,000 in income but less likely to earn between $100,000-$149,000 or over $150K. The majority of respondents also live in Council Districts 3 and 4 while the lowest concentration of respondents live in Council Districts 1,6, and 8. Approximately, 78% of survey respondents have been living in LA for over 5 years while less than 5% have been living in the city under a year. Lastly, survey respondents were politically active during the 2020 presidential election: 95% of respondents who registered to vote in 2020 voted in the 2020 presidential election.