Reps. Young Kim, left, and Michelle Steel share a laugh together in Buena Park, CA on Friday, December 18, 2020. Districts they represent could see big changes through redistricting now underway. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)By BROOKE STAGGS | email@example.com | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: November 11, 2021 at 12:01 p.m. | UPDATED: November 11, 2021 at 5:01 p.m.
Reps. Katie Porter, Michelle Steel and Young Kim might not live in their congressional districts any more.
What’s more, the political lean of those and other local seats might shift — some dramatically.
And, overall, Orange County might lose one voice in Washington, D.C., with the seat now held by Rep. Alan Lowenthal shifting north and shrinking the number of House seats that touch the county from seven to six.
Those are some of the changes proposed in the draft maps of new state and federal political districts released late Wednesday by California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The maps — which still could be altered significantly before becoming final on Dec. 27– are part of a once-a-decade redistricting process that’s required under federal law. The public is expected to continue to weigh in, and legal challenges are possible. But once adopted, the maps will hold until the next redistricting following the 2030 Census.
As drawn, the new local maps could make the biggest changes to the county’s Congressional delegation. That, in turn, could be a key to the short-term balance of power in the House of Representatives, where Democrats currently hold an eight seat majority.
For example, Porter’s current district, CA-45, could lose part of Irvine and become more Republican, while Steel’s CA-48 might lose Little Saigon and lean more to the left. Political observers raised the possibility that those changes could prompt the two representatives — both of whom are expected to run again next year — to run for different districts in ’22.
And though the proposals that would push sitting House members out of their districts carry no legal weight, since House members aren’t required to live in their district, voters tend to prefer local representation.https://public.tableau.com/views/CongressionalMaps/Compare?:embed=y&amp;:display_count=yes&amp;publish=yes&amp;:toolbar=no&amp;:showVizHome=no
The redrawing of political maps, known as redistricting, happens just once every 10 years, after the federal government publishes updated census information. This year, because California’s population growth is slowing, the state will send 52 people to the House, down from 53, a change that is complicating this cycle of map drawing. Also, population shift within the state will affect the new maps for 40 California State Senate seats and 80 Assembly seats, and the four districts that make up the State Board of Equalization.
The legal mandate for every district is to ensure fair representation. Districts must be contiguous and compact, with communities that share common interests kept together whenever possible.
And, as part of the federal Voting Rights Act, new maps must protect districts with high percentages of minority voters. Under current lines, four House districts that touch Orange County are majority-minority districts, with protected concentrations of Latino and Asian American residents in CA-38, CA-39, CA-46 and CA-47.
In California, to avoid gerrymandering and to make line drawing more transparent, the process has been handled since 2008 by a Citizens Redistricting Commission, which includes 14 volunteers who represent diverse political views and different parts of the state.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed Census counts and processing for several months. California’s commission did get one deadline extension for maps, but the courts denied a request to push the final due date into January.
“It’s obviously a massive jigsaw puzzle to follow the directives of roughly equal populations, following the VRA parameters, and keeping communities of interest together — and pleasing the requests from public comments,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College who’s been tracking the process.
Despite the sometimes chaotic live line-drawing process, Balma said she’s been impressed with how responsive the commission has been to public comments. She also noted how well they seemed to know Orange County, with commissioners sometimes talking in detail about Little Saigon and even identifying streets that divide towns — “like ‘Chapman/Malvern’ being the start of south Fullerton and a good place to put a boundary line.”
The lines also will be shuffled to represent changes in population.
Porter’s 45th District is the only one in Orange County that’s overpopulated based on 2020 census counts, with 53,645 people too many, according to data compiled by City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research. That means the district needs to shrink in size, while every other district that touches Orange County needs to grow — by at little as 10,301 people in CA-49 to as much as 57,554 in CA-46.
The new proposal would shrink Porter’s district by moving a huge swath of Irvine — including the portion where she lives, near UC Irvine — to CA-48. Porter’s district also would move north to include portions of the solidly red cities of Yorba Linda and Placentia, and cross into San Bernardino County to pick up the right-leaning city of Chino Hills.
Those changes would make the inland O.C. district shift from plus 11 points for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election to only plus four. Dave Wasserman with Cook Political Report says it would makes her one of the top 10 biggest “losers” in the draft maps. But Porter also is one of the highest profile members of the House, raising more money last quarter than any other Democrat, which could help her overcome that partisan gap.
On Thursday, Porter’s office sent this statement: “Because the Congressional map is not yet finalized, our campaign will refrain from commenting on where lines are drawn, so as to avoid even the appearance of trying to influence the commission.”
Steel, R-Seal Beach, suffered a similar blow in the new district maps. By picking up the bluest portion of Irvine and losing her chunk of Little Saigon, Cook Political Report says her district would go from plus two for Biden to plus nine based on last year’s election. The maps also carve Seal Beach, where Steel lives, out of the north coastal district and lumps it in with a district that now would stretch to Yorba Linda — an area now represented by fellow GOP Rep. Young Kim.
Those changes could be good news for Democrat Harley Rouda, who lost the current CA-48 seat to Steel in 2020 and is challenging her again in 2022. Earlier pre-draft maps proposed carving Laguna Beach — where Rouda lives — out of what’s now CA-48, but that idea went away in Wednesday’s maps.
In response to the proposed lines, Rouda said in a statement that he’s confident “this seat will remain the most competitive race in the nation once the final maps are approved.”
The biggest change from a geographical standpoint to a local House seat is to what’s now the 39th District, represented by Kim.
The district now includes northeast Orange County plus significant portions of southeast Los Angeles County and Chino Hills in San Bernardino County. But under the proposed map, that district would be almost entirely in Orange County, stretching from Yorba Linda southwest to pick up Little Saigon and reach the coast.
Ironically, the only sliver of north O.C. that wouldn’t be in the district is a chunk of La Habra — possibly including the area where Kim lives. That section of the city would be lumped in with a Los Angeles County district that roughly aligns with one now represented by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Whitter.
“Congresswoman Kim is monitoring the redistricting process, but her top priority right now as always is to deliver results for her constituents,” her office said in response to requests for comment.
Proposed changes to districts represented by Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, and Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, were more minor, only making Levin’s district a bit more competitive for his GOP challengers.
During public input meetings and in written comments, some county residents pushed for one congressional district to represent the entire coastal area, rather than the current split with northern coastal cities in CA-48 and southern cities in CA-49. That idea was included in some preliminary maps but didn’t stick in the drafts.
The changes spark many questions swirling among political observers. Some of the questions raised by political observers, online and in person:
• Could Steel shift to the inland Orange County district, possibly moving to Yorba Linda and running for a more favorable seat? And would Porter consider running for the more favorable north coastal district?
• Where would such moves leave Rouda, who won a competitive district in 2018 and is viewed as a potentially strong candidate in ’22?
• Might Democrats want to keep Porter in the tougher race, since she’s one of few Democrats who might stand a chance of hanging onto such a right-leaning district?
Balma said she expects the preliminary maps will draw more comments and input, with significant changes possible before the Dec. 27 deadline.
Residents can visit WeDrawTheLinesCA.org to learn more about the process and learn how to submit comments in writing or during upcoming hearings, which pick up Saturday, Nov. 13.