Facing new challenger and redistricting, eighth-district candidate considering strategies to win council seat

CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

Community activist Mike Kowal isn’t giving up on his plan to run for a spot on the Long Beach City Council.
When the Long Beach City Council voted earlier this month to adopt a new redistricting map, Kowal, an eighth district resident, acknowledged that the new plan would move him to an entirely different district. In April, the real estate broker had already announced his intention to run for the eighth district council seat that would be open next year after the current council member, Rae Gabelich, finished her term. The City Council elections for the second, fourth, sixth and eighth districts will be in April 2012.
The new redistricting plan proposes to use Bixby Road as one of the major dividing lines between the seventh and eighth districts. If the City Council fully approves the ordinance that reflects the latest redistricting map, Kowal will find himself in the seventh district and ineligible to run in the eighth. The City Council will review the new plan and the ordinance at the next Council meeting on July 19.
Kowal lives in the Los Cerritos neighborhood on Pine Avenue. He said that his home is just 200 feet south of Bixby Road. He’s that close to remaining in the eighth district.
“I’m exploring all my options,” Kowal said in an interview Tuesday night, outlining several possibilities. One of those options involved a “legal remedy” that would stop the Council’s plan, but if that fails, Kowal also could move or even wait until it’s time for the next round of City Council elections when he would be eligible to run for seventh district’s City Council seat.
According to the City Clerk calendar for this particular election, eligible candidates for City Council must be registered to vote and a resident of the district they will represent before Nov. 19.
The City Council initially adopted the latest proposed map after a number of eighth district residents voiced significant opposition to an earlier plan that would draw the border between districts along Atlantic Avenue and would divide a thriving business district along a major street in Bixby Knolls.
After the release of the latest US Census numbers that reflected changes to the population numbers in Long Beach, the City had initiated the process of redistricting several months ago. Since there are changes to the population numbers within individual districts, the eighth district must give up a portion of its territory to the seventh district, according to a report offered by Tom Modica, who serves as the director of government affairs and strategic initiatives for the City. Modica appeared at a community meeting on redistricting last month to outline the issues at stake.
Seventh District Councilmember James Johnson proposed the current plan, indicating in an interview last month that it was important to keep districts compact and to follow major roads. The newly proposed plan also moves just over 2,300 residents from the eighth district into the seventh, more than is needed to equalize populations within districts, however, Johnson’s plan does keep his district’s population numbers within the guidelines approved earlier by City Council.
Gabelich said Friday that she had hoped that Johnson and the Council would reconsider their plan. The Council did not approve Gabelich’s alternative plan to draw district council lines that would move only a few key Los Cerritos neighborhoods from the eighth to the seventh district; however, her new boundary lines did not follow a major road along one continuous straight line.  
Gabelich acknowledged that she had been asked whether the location of Kowal’s home had anything to do with her resistance to Johnson’s proposed map that drew that boundary line on Bixby Road. Gabelich said that from her perspective the issue wasn’t about Kowal.
“What it had to do with was…giving the amount of people necessary to give to the seventh. And so, unfortunately Mike was a part of that,” Gabelich said.
Currently, the Council’s proposed map will give the eighth district 53,009 residents, whereas the seventh district will serve a population of 52,013. Although the new proposal still gives the eighth district more residents, Gabelich indicated that the Council earlier had agreed to “have the least amount of impact on a district as was possible.”
Gabelich took issue with the new district map since it significantly changes her district, even if the Council chose Bixby Road instead of Atlantic Avenue as a major boundary between the eighth and seventh districts. The proposed boundary line will run from west to east along Bixby Road from the Blue Line on the west to Atlantic Avenue on the east. The neighborhoods south of that line will fall in the seventh district.
“If you’re going to– as Johnson proposed and the others supported– draw a straight line, what’s more important?” Gabelich asked. “The straight line for a line that very few people look at? Or is it about making an impact to neighborhoods, making changes in neighborhoods that don’t want it and where it’s not necessary?”
In addition to his residency problem, Kowal now has competition for the eighth district council seat. The office of the City Clerk confirmed that last week they received papers from eighth district resident Al Austin, who filed his intent to run for the eighth district council seat.
Austin said in an interview Friday that he didn’t really take a position on the overall redistricting plan, although he did pay attention to the issues at stake when residents criticized the City Council when they first considered dividing Bixby Knolls’s business corridor along Atlantic Avenue.
“At the end of the day, I think that the vast majority of the residents had their voices heard in that process with the City Council choosing an alternative. Is it unfortunate that Mr. Kowal’s home was included in that swatch that was left out? Definitely. I hope…something can be worked out,” Austin said.
He said that his home is not affected by the newly proposed district lines. He also indicated that he isn’t worried about competition for the same seat on City Council.
“The more the merrier,” Austin said, acknowledging that Kowal could move into the eighth district if the City Council fully approves the new plan. “I think that. . .if he has ideas about improving the City, about improving the quality of life for residents, all of the residents of Long Beach and the eighth district, then, you know, by all means, I welcome him into the race and in the debate. I think the voters deserve a choice.”

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