Why redistricting Plan B-2 is not optimal
September 20, 2011
OPINION By STEW JENKINS
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ 2011 redistricting plan is in line to pass Tuesday, September 20. Redistricting is one of those thankless tasks that tends to generate more enemies than friends. But neither the Board of Supervisors nor any other representative body seems to be able to approach the task of its own redistricting from a neutral position.
The Republican majority on the Board in 2001 dictated a plan that diluted the influence of San Luis Obispo by dividing it four ways in a manner that preserved their own relationship with voters that they thought would re-elect them.
Predictably, there is no longer any sitting Supervisor who was elected when he was a resident of the City of San Luis Obispo (even though it is the only city with a population equal to one full supervisorial district).
In 2011 a new majority of two Democrats and a Green turned Independent, teamed up with two Republicans to make modest adjustments in the lines “so as not to inconvenience voters.” In other words, so they could preserve the relationships that these officeholders had with the voters they were depending on to reelect them.
One might think that as politically sophisticated as Supervisors are that they would have taken note when voters’ demonstrated in 2008 and 2010 that their patience was exhausted with the way redistricting is usually done; enacting two initiatives that imposed new rules for redistricting first the Legislature and later Congress. But the protection of an incumbent’s relationships with “their” voters unswervingly boxes any officeholder back into the same old habits of self-interest and self-protection.
Recognizing this inherent conflict-of-interest, voters weighed in during both 2008 and 2010 to add to the State Constitution Article 21. Not only did it mandate that redistricting would be accomplished by a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (which barred sitting and recent officeholders from participating); but Section 2. (d) (4) and (5) gave the Commission clear do’s and don’ts.
The one big don’t specifically decreed in the amendment was that “communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.”
The most important do was to draw districts so that a city, neighborhood, or local community of interest would in most cases not be divided. A “community of interest” was positively defined as a contiguous population sharing common social and economic interests which should be kept in a single district for effective and fair representation. In other words, a City should be placed in a single district. Contiguous cities or communities with common social and economic interests should be drawn together into a single district.
So what would be different had these principles been followed at the County level? Quite a bit. For instance, since the 2000 census, San Luis Obispo County has experienced significant growth in our Hispanic population that has gravitated notably to the affordable and Contiguous Communities of Grover Beach and Oceano.
Had the redistricting followed the principles of California’s Constitution Article 21 to place contiguous populations sharing common social and economic interests, the Supervisors would have drawn both these communities into a single Supervisorial District. This would have complied with one of the other dictates of Article 21 requiring compliance with the Voting Rights Act to prevent dilution of minority voting power.
This may be the current maps’ most significant flaw that is likely to generate litigation against the County sometime during the coming decade. The tax payers will be saddled with with the costs of any such litigation.
Obviously, San Luis Obispo, which almost exactly equals the population of one Supervisorial District, would have been drawn into one district. Probably coastal communities from San Simeon to Pismo would have been drawn into one district, and Templeton would never likely have had to fight to be drawn into a single district.
Officeholders in counties or smaller governmental subdivisions can accurately say that the Article 21 of the California Constitution does not apply to any redistricting other than that of the State Legislature and the House of Representative. But the recent experience of San Luis Obispo County and a number of other Counties (including Los Angeles) this year strongly suggests that the electorate wants similar principles to apply to local decisions about redistricting.
Voters should look at alternatives that structure and enact requirements for a County Citizens’ Redistricting Commission before the 2020 census. It would necessarily be county centric, made up of citizens from the county; but like Article 21 it should require that those serving on any local Citizen’s Redistricting Commission not be made up of current or recent officeholders with an interest in re-election or future elevation to any of the districts drawn.
Stew Jenkins is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978, who has served as judge pro-tem and as a special master for the Superior Courts. A former elected Harbor Commissioner, Mr. Jenkins was the 2004 Democratic Nominee for the 33rd Assembly District who at the time advocated that redistricting of the Legislature should be done by a special grand jury in open session with members drawn from throughout the State of California. Mr. Jenkins, with his co-counsel Saro Rizzo, recently defended the County Democratic Party in Wilson v. San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee; where they established for the first time in the United States the right of citizens to freely organize and structure county political parties under the 1st Amendment in more inclusive ways than “permitted” by a State Legislature.