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News Redistricting

Could Two of OC’s Smaller Cities Buck California’s Trend Toward District Elections?

Two small Orange County cities could be the first in California to successfully fight back against a statewide trend of cities switching to district elections.

City council members in Brea and Cypress said they will not be switching to district elections after receiving a legal threat to make the change.

They could also be the latest in a string of Golden State cities to face costly legal battles and ultimately be forced by a judge to adopt district voting.

In by-district elections, residents can only vote for a candidate who lives in their district – only having a say on who gets to sit on one of the seats at the dais.

In at-large elections, voters across the city can vote for as many candidates as there are council seats up for grabs. For example, if three seats are up for election, voters can vote for three candidates – the top three vote-getters are then elected to those seats.

The switch is part of a larger trend – often pushed by voting rights organizations – to fix what they say is racially polarized voting, which means at-large voting disenfranchises minority voters and candidates.

In cases where California courts have ruled on election lawsuits, judges routinely ruled at-large voting systems violate the state’s voting rights act.

Yet Brea council members recently decided publicly that their city wouldn’t make a switch to district voting. 

“Our constituents all feel very strongly for the most part that districting is not right for a city as small as Brea. Maybe it works for a larger city – but for us, everyone loses. Everyone in the city loses four votes,” said Brea Mayor Cecilia Hupp in a Thursday phone interview.

Brea’s also facing a lawsuit from two former city council candidates in an effort to stop the city from making the switch.

Both Brea and Cypress could potentially end up spending considerable amounts on legal battles – a dynamic that’s already played out in cities across California and Orange County, like in Anaheim, Fullerton and Mission Viejo. 

Some cities, like Palmdale, rejected the switch and were ultimately forced to adopt district elections by a judge, and ended up paying the plaintiffs’ lawyers $4.5 million plus interest. 

One of those lawyers in the Palmdale case is Malibu-based Kevin Shenkman, who is also the attorney who sent Brea and Cypress officials a warning letter about their election systems.

Shenkman, who’s been sending similar letters to officials throughout OC and the state, has developed a reputation for forcing cities to switch to district elections by representing people and groups who threaten to sue municipalities under California’s Voting Rights Act.

In a Wednesday interview, Shenkman said the Palmdale case changed city officials’ reactions to his letters.

“The reaction of most cities to a demand would be F you…After our victory in Palmdale, I think most cities at least got a hint that this is not the right way to go.”

Kevin Shenkman, attorney

Shenkman said that officials in Brea and Cypress can expect a lawsuit for violating the California Voting Rights Act.

Shenkman represents Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which alleges at-large voting in the two small cities is diluting minority voters’ voices.

He also said Brea officials abruptly backed out of an agreement.

“We had entered into an agreement some time ago in good faith based on representations made by the city and its council. Now, it seems that the council has reneged on those representations,” he said.

Cypress City Attorney Fred Galante sent a response letter to Shenkman last month arguing that legal action against the city is unwarranted.

“We would therefore respectfully request that you provide us any evidence you purport to have in support of your allegations so that we can understand the nature of your client’s demand. Your refusal to do so leaves the City without evidence of a [California Voting Rights Act] violation and no rationale for disenfranchising its residents by abandoning at-large elections,” the letter continues.

In Orange County, Garden GroveSan Juan CapistranoFullertonOrange and Santa Ana switched from at-large elections to district elections stemming from litigation threats or lawsuits.

Anaheim ended up making a switch to district voting after settling a lawsuit in 2014 from the American Civil Liberties Union that alleged at-large voting was disenfranchising Latino voters

The legal battle cost Anaheim taxpayers more than $1 million. 

Brea council members  stopped their switch to district elections less than two weeks before the deadline to submit their new voting map to Orange County Registrar of Voters following pressure from residents and a lawsuit by former city council candidates against the city to stop the switch.

The lawsuit against the city was filed by two former city council candidates, Richard Rios and Michael Kim, who argued the switch to district elections would cause the exact problems that the state’s voting rights act was created to avoid.

Steve Baric, an attorney representing Kim and Rios, said other cities are taking a stand against Shenkman. 

“You’re starting to see cities like Brea, Cypress and the city of Irvine that are pushing back,” Baric said in a Wednesday phone interview. “They’re standing up for their citizens.”

Last year, Irvine also resisted Shenkman’s calls to change their election system. 

Baric said Rios and Kim are reassessing their own legal challenge following the council’s decision.

Hupp, Brea’s mayor, refused to comment on the Kim and Rios lawsuit.

[Read: Will Brea’s Century-Old Election System Be Nixed? Residents Fight Switch to District Voting]

Photo of Brea city civic and cultural center, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Credit: DEVON JAMES, VOICE OF OC

Hupp and her fellow Brea council members themselves have routinely said that they don’t want to make the change to by-district elections but felt forced to after receiving a legal threat three years ago. 

“I feel like we’re being blackmailed, strong armed, scammed, however you want to put it…We’ve got several other cities that have decided to stand up and fight and maybe we need to consider standing up and fighting.”

Brea Mayor Cecilia Hupp said at an April 5 council meeting

In a phone interview Thursday, Hupp said one of the reasons they decided against switching to district elections is because they’re waiting on the California Supreme Court to make a decision on a similar battle in Santa Monica.

But Shenkman said cities who choose to fight a switch to district elections are making a “dumb mistake.”

“Some of these cities may be looking at that case and then hoping, wishing against all indications, that somehow that case is going to allow them to continue diluting the votes of their minority residents, so that they can stay in power,” Shenkman said.

[Read: Brea Officials Consider District Elections While Facing Two Competing Legal Threats Over Voting]

In 2019, city officials received a letter from Shenkman, representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which alleged that voting in Brea is racially polarized and the city’s current election system violates the state’s voting rights act by disenfranchising Asian and Latino voters.

Census results from 2020 show the city has a citizen voting age population of nearly 30,000 people – 51% are white, 27% are Latino and 19% are Asian/Pacific Islander residents, according to the city’s demographic summary.

In the letter, Shenkman used both Rios’ and Kim’s failed campaigns as examples of disenfranchisement by the at-large election system in Brea. 

He gave officials a choice: switch to district elections voluntarily or face a lawsuit.

Following the 2019 letter, Brea officials had initially been taking steps to cut up the city into districts after making the agreement with Shenkman to curb a lawsuit.

But at their April 5 meeting Brea city council members narrowly voted 3-2 to abandon the switch.

Councilmembers Christine Marick and Glenn Parker were the dissenting votes and both expressed concern about the legal exposure and the cost of a lawsuit.

“The results are not only financial, which could be extreme which would lead to service cuts or changes. We do not have an unlimited budget to fight the (State Voting Rights Act),” Marick said at the meeting. “There is the potential that in that potential lawsuit the districts are drawn for us and they’re not done through a deliberative process that we have had over the last year.”

She also noted the agreement they made.

Councilman Steven Vargas, who made the motion to not move forward with district elections, pointed to other cities standing up against Shenkman.

“With new information about Cypress, essentially, not responding to the Shenkman letter, and the city of Norco in 2017 got the Shenkman letter and didn’t respond to it and still hasn’t had any issues. I think that we should not do this,” he said.

Cypress Ignores Warning Letter

Last month, Cypress City Council Members voted behind closed doors 4-1 to reject a similar letter they received from Shenkman demanding the city switch to district elections.

The closed session meeting and vote sparked questions of whether the vote was illegal and violated California’s Brown Act – the state law that governs transparency for local government bodies, like city councils. 

Galante, the city attorney, disputed any potential Brown Act violations in a phone interview Thursday.

“The Brown Act specifically allows public agencies to meet in closed session to discuss a threat of litigation,” he said. “All they did was review a threat of litigation and basically decided to not go along with it and rejected it. That happens all the time.”

Galante also said he reported the decision out of closed session.

David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the city has the right under the Brown Act to take legal advice from their attorney over threats of litigation.

In a Thursday phone interview, Loy argued that there was also a policy issue at play in Cypress – should the city switch to district elections or not?

“Is it a good idea or a bad idea, litigation aside, to move from at large to district elections? That certainly is embedded in the decision by the council and is implicitly part of the decision they made and I think that should have been discussed and voted on in open session,” Loy said.

Regardless of Brown Act concerns, Shenkman said Cypress City Council members should’ve publicly debated the issue.

“This is certainly a matter of public concern and if the council members were so confident in their positions, there’s no reason for them to hide those positions,” he said.

Cypress Civic Center on April 17, 2022. Credit: AYDA TUNCAY, Voice of OC

Cypress council members were hit with a letter in September of last year from Shenkman, representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, alleging the city was violating the state’s voting rights act by disenfranchising Asian American voters in the city.

In Cypress, Asian Americans comprise 37% of the city’s over 50,000 population, according to the Census Bureau. Citizen voting age population data was not available.

“The current complete absence of Asian representation on the City’s governing board is revealing,” the letter reads. “It appears that in the past 20 years, the city’s elections have been almost completely devoid of Asian candidates.”

Galante disputed the city is violating California voting law in his letter to Shenkman and argues that there has been a history of Asian Americans elected to the council.

“In1998 and again (in) 2002, Lydia Sondhi was elected to the City Council. Also, in 2006 and again 2010, Dr. Prakash Narain was elected to the City Council,” reads the letter. “Certainly, these undeniable trends of Asian Americans succeeding in the City’s at-large elections confirm that Cypress is not the appropriate target for your cookie cutter [voting rights act] letters.”

In November 2020, Carrie Katsumata Hayashida, an Asian American city council candidate, came close to being elected, but lost to Council Members Anne Hertz and Frances Marquez.

When Stacy Berry resigned from the Cypress Council, some residents voiced support for Hayashida to be appointed but the council instead appointed Scott Minikus.

Shenkman sent his letter about a month after Minikus was selected, using Hayashida’s failed campaign as an example in his letter of vote dilution.

In the city’s response letter to Shenkman, Galante argued that residents were concerned with losing their ability to vote for all five seats and that no areas in the city have a high concentration of any protected class under the state’s voting rights act.

“​​It would be impossible to show that districts would enhance the ability of any protected class to elect candidates of its choice or influence election outcomes. To the contrary, splitting up the votes of those protected classes would have the effect of preventing them from voting as a larger class to elect a candidate of their choice,” Galante wrote.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Categories
News Redistricting

Court says OC Board of Ed will use voting maps by county committee

Orange County Board of Education members seeking re-election in June will be forced to campaign in newly redrawn districts, selected by a county committee, following a court order this week.

On Wednesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory H. Lewis denied the board’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped new election maps created with input from the board from immediately going into effect.

That means OCBE members Mari Barke, Lisa Sparks and Tim Shaw will be facing challengers in the June 7 election in redrawn districts.

Board members argue the new districts have been drawn in a way to push them out of office, but members of the committee that created the maps said the new lines were created independent of politics.

“My district was definitely gerrymandered very far south, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me,” said Barke, a Rossmoor resident in north Orange County.

Shaw, a La Habra resident, had similar complaints and claimed the redrawn districts were “politically motivated.”

“They put La Habra, Fullerton and Buena Park in the Fourth District, then put Brea, Placentia and Yorba Linda in the third district, drawing a wedge straight through North Orange County.”

The five-member Orange County Board of Education includes four very conservative board members who have used their platform to push their ideals, including less intrusive public health rules during the pandemic and support of public charter schools.

Virginia Wilson, a longtime member of the Los Alamitos Unified School Board and a member of the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, which is tasked with school redistricting maps, said politics was never discussed or considered during the map drawing process.

“We chose the map that tried to keep districts whole, together,” Wilson said.  “We made a determination under (education) code and it was within the law.”

Wilson, who like other committee members was a target of derogatory remarks from some OCBE supporters during recent public hearings, added: “I was very shocked by the attitude and the language of the people speaking.”

The map making process has sparked a legal battle.

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On Jan. 20, the OCBE filed a court petition against the Orange County Committee on School District Organization. On Jan. 28, that committee, made up of 11 current and former school board members, rejected OCBE’s favored election map, and voted 8-2 in favor of another redistricting map.  A few days later, the Orange County Board of Supervisors stepped into the dispute and passed a resolution giving the OCBE “exclusive authority” to adjust its own voter redistricting.

In his order this week, Judge Lewis denied OCBE’s request, the second time a Superior Court judge this year ruled against a temporary restraining order in the case.

Lewis wrote that county trustees “contended that the OC Board of Supervisors has authority to determine the redistricting powers of the Board of Education” and that county supervisors could then delegate that authority to the Board of Education members, according to a court document. But “the state’s education code designates the committee as the group charged with revising election maps following the decennial U.S. Census count.”

Committee member Francine Scinto, one of two members who voted for what she called “a far superior” version of the OCBE’s map, said she “did not look at it from a political standpoint” but questioned whether politics came into play with some on the committee.

“We didn’t talk about it that way,” said Scinto, who served on the Tustin Unified School Board for 24 years. “But that doesn’t mean some people don’t have connections behind the scenes. I was surprised at how lopsided the vote was.”

Scinto also did not think that having dueling demographers and attorneys — hired by the Board of Education and the committee — made for good governance.

“The whole situation is very unfortunate.”

And it’s not over. While Lewis denied the OCBE’s request for a temporary restraining order, the case will continue and could impact future elections, Barke and Shaw said Friday.

“We’re definitely going to pursue this. It’s not over,” Barke said.

Beckie Gomez, a member of OCBE who tends to vote against the conservative majority and who opposed taking the county committee to court, noted that this is one of several lawsuits or legal matters involving the board. Those legal fights, she said, have been distracting.

“It’s been difficult,” Gomez said. “So many different lawsuits going on. The board’s focus should be on education.”

Meanwhile, board members up for re-election said they’re beginning their campaigns.

“Personally, I’m going to put a lot more miles on my tennis shoes,” Barke said.

Sparks, who said she may not be affected as much by the redistricting as her colleagues, has fundraisers lined up and said she plans to “hit the ground running.”

The deadline for candidates to file their candidacy paperwork with the Orange County Registrar of Voters for the June 7 election is Friday, March 11.

Staff writer Sean Emery contributed to this report.

Categories
News Redistricting

Anaheim New Election Map Giving Latinos More Representation

Anaheim City Council members this week have settled on a newly carved out election map that will determine voter representation in Orange County’s largest city for roughly the next decade and it boosts the Latino community’s voting power.

In half of the city’s six voting districts, Latinos eligible to vote would make up 50% or more of the population in a city where Latinos make up more than half of the city’s total population.

Like many cities in Orange County, this marks the first redistricting process for Anaheim. 

Over the past five years or so, many OC cities have switched from at-large elections to district elections after being threatened with lawsuits alleging that their citywide, at-large voting methods were disenfranchising communities of color.

[Read: What Will Orange County Cities’ Representation Look Like After This Year?]

In at-large elections, voters across the city can vote for as many candidates as there are council seats up for grabs. For example, if three seats are up for election, voters can vote for three candidates – the top three vote-getters are then elected to those seats. 

In district elections, voters can only vote for one candidate who lives in their respective districts.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Anaheim council members selected a new election map dubbed 114 for their city and voted 5-1 to introduce an ordinance adopting the map.

“(Map) 114 for the most part reflects our city’s demographics and communities while having clear geographical boundaries and maintaining similarities to the current district map boundaries,” Councilman Avelino Valencia said at the meeting.

Councilman Jose Moreno was absent from the meeting and Councilman Stephen Faesselwas the dissenting vote, who insisted the Platinum Triangle, a development area near Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, stay together.

Map 114 would split up the Platinum Triangle area.

“I won’t support any map whatsoever that breaks up the Platinum Triangle,” Faessel said at the meeting. “I will not budge on the Platinum Triangle.”

The new map has been drawn using 2020 census data.

Census results from 2020 show the city has a citizen voting age population of 199,301 people – 39% are Latino, 36% are white, 21% are Asian/Pacific Islander residents and 4% are Black, according to the city’s demographic census summary.

According to the same data, 54% of the city’s total population are Latino.

The newly selected map will create three major Latino voting districts in the west side of the city with around 50% of Latino voting-age residents making up districts 3, 4 and 5. 

“Definitely 114 is my favorite because it keeps the majority Latino vote, but also it keeps most of the community’s interests together and that’s ultimately what we are trying to achieve here,” said Councilman Jose Diaz at the meeting.

Under the current map, only two of the the six districts in Anaheim have a majority Latino citizen voting age population.

The selection of the map came after several Anaheim residents, mainly volunteers from the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Developmentvoiced support for Map 114.

“Map 114 offers stability and balance to all three needed districts. Not only will it allow residents of each district to come together, learn and contribute to diverse communities but it will offer more opportunities for future generations to unfold,” said Dayana Badillo Marin, a resident who spoke at the meeting.

Anaheim & Other OC Cities Forced to Switch to District Elections

Back in 2016, the city adopted its first district boundary map based on census data from 2010.

Up until recent years, Anaheim used to hold at-large elections where residents could vote for as many council candidates as there were vacant seats on the dais.

Anaheim ended up making a switch to district voting after settling a lawsuit in 2014 from the ACLU that alleged at-large voting was disenfranchising Latino voters and violating the State’s Voting Rights Act. The settlement called for the city to put the district election question in front of voters.

City officials spent over $1 million tax dollars fighting the lawsuit that eventually saw an overwhelming majority of city voters choose to switch to district elections in 2014.

Officials there weren’t the only ones forced to switch their election system in lawsuits.

Cities and school districts up and down California have also transitioned to district voting following lawsuits or being threatened with litigation.

Locally, the cities of Garden GroveSan Juan CapistranoFullertonOrange and Santa Ana have made the switch from at-large elections to district elections.

The list continues to grow.

Brea officials are in the midst of a transition amid two competing legal threats over the future of elections over there.

[Read: Brea Officials Consider District Elections While Facing Two Competing Legal Threats Over Voting]

Anaheim council members are expected to finalize adoption of their new map at their March 15 meeting.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Categories
News Redistricting

Term extensions in Mission Viejo challenged

Mission Viejo City Hall in Mission Viejo on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. After facing pressure in 2018 to change its voting structure for council elections, Mission Viejo leaders shifted to cumulative voting as the best choice for addressing minority representation in city council elections. The method ran into obstacles with the state and the city abandoned efforts to implement it this year, instead opting for district-based voting which still doesn’t address the issues surrounding the dilution of the Latino vote in Mission Viejo. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)By TESS SHEETS | tsheets@scng.com |PUBLISHED: February 11, 2022 at 9:16 a.m. | UPDATED: February 11, 2022 at 9:16 a.m.

When Mission Viejo leaders in 2020 decided to delay plans for changing how voting is done in the city — after nearly two years of trying to implement a cumulative system — threecouncil members ended up staying in office two years longer than the terms they were elected to.

Now, a resident is asking the state attorney general to allow his lawsuit over the extension of those two-year terms to four years without a public vote. And some residents say they are concerned it could happen again, as Mission Viejo leaders finalize plans for transitioning to a by-district voting system.

But the attorney for Mission Viejo, who is also representing the three council members being challenged, said the city is not making up new rules. Since officials couldn’t make cumulative voting work – state officials said it would need legislative changes – the city’s existing laws governing council member terms were followed, City Attorney Bill Curley said.

To settle a 2018 lawsuit against the city over its at-large election system, Mission Viejo leaders and the voting rights group that sued the city agreed cumulative voting was the best method for addressing minority voter dilution in the city. Under a cumulative system, voters receive as many votes as open seats and cast them however they like – including multiple for the same person. For the cumulative system, all City Council members would be up for election at the same time.

In order to align the terms of the council members, city officials in 2018 intended for the three winners for office that year to serve only two-year terms, so all five city leader positions would be on the ballot in 2020, when the new voting system was expected to launch.

When those plans were delayed due to pushback from state officials, the terms of the three council members – Wendy Bucknam, Greg Raths and Ed Sachs – were extended by a City Council vote.

Curley said officials went back to an Orange County Superior Court judge and asked for more time to get the cumulative-voting system implemented.

Because all five seats needed to be up for election in 2022, when city leaders expected to finally get the new system in place, the two winners from the ballot for 2020 were to serve for two years. Elected that year were Trish Kelley and Brian Goodell.

Now that Mission Viejo leaders have dropped the idea of cumulative voting in favor of a district-based system, some community members are questioning the term extensions for Raths, Sachs and Bucknum, which they argue were decided without public input.

And because terms would instead be staggered in a district-based system, some suspect Kelley and Goodell won’t end up facing a public vote in November.

Curley said that has yet to be decided.

Cathy Palmer, who has lived in Mission Viejo since the 1980s, said the council’s decision to extend officials’ terms in office beyond what residents believed they were voting for is “concerning.”

Palmer said she considers it breaking a “philosophical principle” by “taking away, as a citizen, my fundamental right to choose those who represent me.”

Another resident, Michael Schlesinger, filed an application with the state attorney general last month asking for a legal opinion on whether Raths, Sachs and Bucknum can be sued for remaining in office.

Lee Fink, the attorney representing Schlesinger, said if given the go-ahead by the state’s top prosecutor, they would file in Orange County Superior Court “and ask that the three council members be removed and the offices declared vacant.”

“We are hoping that we can get this matter resolved by the courts to prevent the City Council from further breaching their obligations to the public and allowing themselves to just serve beyond their term,” Fink said.

The filing notes that, under an amended lawsuit settlement agreement issued in 2020, Judge Walter Shwarm ordered all five council seats be up for election in 2022.

But Curley said the two-year terms on which the council members were elected was based on the plan that the city would implement cumulative voting, “and when that was ultimately not viable, particularly because of the concerns of the secretary of state, then we went to normal, if you will, to consistent with existing city and state law,” which puts council member terms at four years, he said.

“And so at no time were we making things up.”

He said that while it has been mentioned during public meetings that the switch to district-based voting will mean three candidates on the ballot in 2022 and two in 2024, officials are simply relaying what the standard process is, but that could be changed.

“We’re telling you what’s on the books, but the books can change in a month,” he said.

When the City Council adopts an ordinance formally implementing the district elections process and official map carving the city into geographic voting areas, “absent being unconstitutional, they can pretty much do what seems right for the community then,” Curley said.

That could mean rolling over the terms of Kelley and Goodell to 2024, he said. The council could, like some other cities that made the switch to district-based voting, also choose to elect the two seats to two-year terms in November to stagger voting for the future.

Categories
News Redistricting

What Will OC Cities’ Representation Look Like?

City council members throughout Orange County are choosing new election district maps that will determine voters’ representation in town and candidates’ political futures for the next ten years. 

But many cities have yet to make the final decision. 

This year also marks the first redistricting process for many Orange County cities, which moved away from the practice of having voters pick their city councils in a citywide election since the last redistricting cycle.

In most cases, the change came after lawsuits arguing city-wide elections diluted the voting power of a community of interest. 

Meanwhile, questions have arisen of whether to forgo the redistricting process entirely in some localities such as the City of Garden Grove – which moved to district elections in 2016 – and the Garden Grove Unified School District.

It’s one of a few localities which opted to forgo the redistricting process this time around, arguing their jurisdictions’ populations haven’t changed substantially upon review of updated U.S. Census Bureau data.

The Garden Grove Unified School District’s elected Board of Trustees will consider skipping the process at today’s meeting. Click here for information on how to access it.

[Read: Garden Grove Officials’ Push to Skip Redistricting Altogether Jolts Alarm in City Spanning Little Saigon]

New maps this year are based on the 2020 census data, and will go into effect in time for the 2022 election. 

The redistricting process in general can be a useful sounding board of what the community looks like and what its varying interests are, said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California.

“Even if an area’s demographics didn’t shift very much, the civic engagement landscape could shift — new community groups could form, more people may have gotten involved or mobilized for their interests over a given amount of time,” Romero said in a Monday phone interview.

Santa Ana & San Juan Capistrano to Hold Redistricting Public Hearings

Today, the Santa Ana city council is expected to hold their sixth public hearing on redistricting at 7 p.m. during their meeting.

In 2018, the city switched from at-large elections to a by-ward election system and held their first elections under the new system in 2020, according to the city website.

Many maps are still on the table for what Santa Ana will look like and the deadline for the final map choice is April 17.

While some of the county’s larger cities are nearly finished figuring out what their future will look like, other smaller cities are still figuring it out. 

San Juan Capistrano City Council members are continuing their process Tuesday night, reviewing census data prepared by a contractor to begin drawing up possible maps and listening to public concerns about where they think the lines should be. 

The city has already held two workshops discussing what the new maps could look like, and is set to talk about the issue during every city council meeting through March 15, 2022 according to the city’s staff report. 

The council meeting starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening, and is the second item on the agenda.

Anaheim May Get Three Majority Latino Districts

Last week, Anaheim City Council members narrowed down their selections to four maps at their fourth public hearing for redistricting, with a fifth map also going to be drawn up for consideration.

Residents however can still submit maps.

Back in 2016, the city adopted its first district boundary map based on census data from 2010 and now must be redrawn using data from the 2020 census.

Currently, only two of the the six districts in Anaheim have a majority latino citizen voting age population despite over 50% of Anaheim residents being Latino.

“I’m looking forward to having a minimum of three districts that are Latino that way at least the districts will reflect the population that we serve,” said Councilman Jose Diaz at the Jan. 25 meeting.

§

Maps 104 and 106 would carve out two districts with a majority Latino citizen voting age population.

One of the maps still under consideration, named 114, would create three districts that are a majority Latino by citizen voting age population.

However, it would split up Platinum Triangle, which Councilman Stephen Faessel spoke out against doing at last week’s meeting and said the city could modify the map so it doesn’t break up the area.

Councilman Trevor O’Neil spoke out against districting and said it creates competing interests and “vulcanizes” issues – creating scenarios where council members put their districts before what’s best for the entire city.

“That said we have districts and I’m not here to take them apart,” he said. 

Councilmembers also voiced support for keeping the boundaries as close to the ones already in place as much as possible.

“They served us well.” Councilman Jose Moreno said at the meeting. “District one and two hadn’t had a council representative in 22 years, until district elections and now we see the power of that, two representatives up here … who have a voice from a part of our city that didn’t have one for 22 years.” 

Later on in the meeting, District Two representative Gloria Ma’ae pushed back on the notion that West Anaheim had been voiceless for two decades until the city started to hold elections by district.

“I’ve been involved for 20 years and we had the entire Council representing us, every single resident in the city,” she said at the meeting. “I recognize now there are some advantages to districting, but I felt very good about the representation we had back then.”

Ma’ae was appointed by the council to replace Jordan Brandman after controversy led to his resignation last year.

Map 115, which is no longer under consideration, would have divided the Little Arabia community as well as other neighborhoods including the resort district.

While the council has never held a discussion on recognizing Little Arabia despite years of community calls to do so, Mayor Harry Sidhu was against dividing the Arab community.

​​Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Categories
News Redistricting

OC Board of Education calls emergency meeting on voting maps

The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday stepped into a feud between the Orange County Board of Education and a committee that oversees election maps, voting 3-2 to give the School Board “exclusive authority” to adjust its own voter redistricting.

But supervisors who dissented noted that their vote carries no legal authority over the voting map, and a county attorney told supervisors that their vote could lead to the county becoming involved in the Board’s ongoing litigation over the issue.

That supervisors vote, held early Tuesday, prompted the Board to call for an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. today, where board members will decide on whether to adopt a voting map they created in December. That map, created by demographers hired by the Board, was rejected recently by a county committee that oversees new election maps for school districts, including the OCBE.

RELATED: Orange County Board of Education voting map nixed by county committee

The Board filed a lawsuit over the issue on Jan. 20, asking the court to prevent the Orange County Committee on School District Organization from rejecting its preferred map. On Monday, Jan. 31, Orange County Superior Court Judge David A. Hoffer ruled against the Board, denying its request.

But early Tuesday, Feb.1, county Supervisors Don Wagner and Lisa Bartlett asked their colleagues to pass a resolution backing the Board’s authority to set its own voting map. They were joined by Supervisor Andrew Do.

“This is about local control,” Bartlett said.

Supervisor Katrina Foley, who voted with Supervisor Doug Chaffee against the resolution, questioned the appropriateness of getting involved. She also asked whether their resolution, which is typically a symbolic move, has any impact on Monday’s court ruling.

RELATED: Orange County School Board asks court to intervene in dispute about voting maps

Leon Page, Orange County’s counsel, said once the county’s resolution is approved, “my duty would be to zealously advocate” for the supervisors’ position, and that could mean getting involved in litigation between the OCBE and the county committee. Page added that the resolution opens the door to a county role in the pending litigation “to specify the manner of selection of members of the board of education.”

“It would be my obligation to then seek that that view is adopted by the court.”

Foley countered: “Where does it say that in this resolution? Because I don’t see us directing you to do anything.” After noting that a judge ruled against the Board, and that a vote by the supervisors doesn’t carry weight on this issue, she added “this just feels like politics.”

The Orange County Board of Education is an elected board made up of five members who represent different regions of the county. Like other elected governing agencies, the agency’s voting maps are redrawn every ten years to reflect new data from the U.S. Census.

The board approved a redistricting map on Dec. 8 and took it two days later to County Committee on School District Organization for approval.

The 11-member county committee is mandated by state law and made up of current and former school board members to help set boundaries for school districts.

But instead of approving the map preferred by the Board, the committee approved a different voting map submitted by a member of the public.

The four-member majority of the Board argue that the committee is biased against them and wants to see incumbents lose when they stand for reelection on June. 7.

The Board started its meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday and went into a closed session.

Please check back for updates later today. 

Register staff writer Sean Emery contributed to this report. 

Categories
News Redistricting

Redistricting Faces Hurdles in Little Saigon

One of the world’s largest Vietnamese communities outside Vietnam is also one of the most-watched voting groups in Orange County and the U.S. during election years. 

This year, the decennial act of redrawing electoral district maps – thus redistributing an area’s voter representation – faces unique hurdles and unwillingness in some cities and school districts within the span of Orange County’s Little Saigon.

At the heart of Little Saigon, for example, City of Westminster officials are in the process of redistricting but have less time than other cities. They’re chasing two types of district maps, faced with two dueling scenarios pending the outcome of a special election they set into motion for this summer which could create a brand new council seat and voting district.

Meanwhile, elected officials at the Garden Grove Unified School District will decide whether to skip the redistricting process entirely at today’s meeting. Click here for information on how to access it.

In November last year, officials at the Westminster School District voted unanimously to forego this redistricting cycle, claiming an exemption to the process on the basis that the district’s population changed minimally upon review of its most recent, 2020 population census numbers.

Council members overseeing the City of Garden Grove – an integral organ of Little Saigon – also at one point tried to skip the process last year for a similar reason but ultimately pulled a proposal to do so following a wave of pushback from residents, activists and community groups.

[Read: Garden Grove Officials’ Push to Skip Redistricting Altogether Jolts Alarm in City Spanning Little Saigon]

These local bodies are opting to skip redistricting on the argument that their jurisdictions’ populations haven’t changed substantially either since the last census count or the last time they drew their districts.

On the Garden Grove Unified School District agenda for today’s board meeting, “it is recommended that the Board adopt Resolution No. 14 which finds that the trustee area boundaries do not require adjustment based on the results of the 2020 census …”

Similarly in the City of Garden Grove, officials argued that no redrawn maps were necessary due to the minimal population change per the most recent census results.

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These are maps that in many cases have been in place for years and would bind the community to the same district voting lines for the next 10. 

Garden Grove Councilmember Kim Nguyen was one official in town who initially supported forgoing the redistricting process last year. 

After all, Nguyen said in a Monday phone interview, the city’s current district map is one she proposed and got approved back in 2016, when the city had to move from citywide elections to district elections after losing a voting rights lawsuit which argued the town’s Latino voting power on the east side had been diluted.

Nguyen, who is both Vietnamese and Latina, became the city’s first Latina council member after her election in 2016. Her map, adopted in 2016, was created alongside a coalition of community groups. Nguyen’s now running for Orange County Supervisor in the board’s new District 2. 

Garden Grove’s voting-age population was nearly 45% Asian American and Pacific Islander, 27% Latino and 26% White in 2019, according to data gathered at the time. 

“I think the (current) map follows the communities of interest that this whole process was created for, and adjustments to those lines can hurt the population we aimed to uplift. I’m trying to protect the east side of Garden Grove — that was the whole premise of this lawsuit,” Nguyen said. 

Nguyen added the redistricting topic is expected to come back to the council sometime this month.

Yet numbers alone can’t give the full picture of how a community has changed, says Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California.

Transformations in the electorate can happen in other ways, beyond population size and the limited demographics captured by the decennial U.S. Census count, Romero said in a Monday phone interview.

“Even if an area’s demographics didn’t shift very much, the civic engagement landscape could shift — new community groups could form, more people may have gotten involved or mobilized for their interests over a given amount of time,” Romero said, adding that census data also doesn’t include every type of demographic.

“That’s why there should be an open conversation and opportunity for all communities of interest to be part of the decision-making process,” Romero said. “When you go through the redistricting process, it gives the opportunity for local groups and communities of interest to have their say in the new restructuring of those lines.

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Orange County’s Little Saigon has been eyed closely during the state-level redistricting process, a process which opened up concerns that Little Saigon’s voting power would get divided in elections where the area’s interests may compete with others in California. 

[Read: Some Early CA Redistricting Map Sketches Raise Concerns Little Saigon Could Be Split Up]

The question of dividing the community between different districts becomes more intricate during such debates at the municipal level, for cities and school districts – a question of who, within Little Saigon itself, should be split representation-wise from who. 

While known for having a large Vietnamese population, cities and school districts within Little Saigon also have considerable Latino and white populations.

For many California cities, the redistricting process must be completed by April 17. 

The City of Westminster may have less time.

A ballot measure this June will ask voters in town whether they want the Westminster mayor’s office to go from a citywide elected position to a rotational one amongst the council members.

Voters will also decide whether to turn the existing mayor seat into an entirely new council member district rather than one elected at large – meaning the number of voting districts in town would go from four to five.

Both of those questions are under one ballot proposal.

The dueling scenarios have city officials in a scramble to not just ensure the four-district map is ready to go, but to also ensure that – in the event the ballot measure passes – City Hall can finalize the new five-district map in time for candidate nominations to begin.

Thus, acting City Clerk Lucie Colombo in a Monday phone interview said the city plans to bring the maps up for council approval on Feb. 23. 

But officials can’t gather all the necessary materials until the results of the ballot measure are certified. 

“The Registrar of Voters has up to 30 days to certify the election. Assuming they take the full 30 days, we’re gonna cut it very close,” said Colombo. 

The dash to clear this time window also comes as City Hall is in the midst of a years-long leadership vacuum – one where the old city clerk, Christine Cordon, has had to fill in as City Hall’s top-ranking executive, the city manager.

Still, council members in town such as Kimberly Ho don’t seem too worried. 

“We are just waiting for staff to agendize it (the maps),” Ho said in a Monday phone interview. Though she acknowledged the city “has a lot of work ahead.”

Westminster’s current mayor is Tri Ta, who along with Councilmember Charlie Nguyen has clashed with the council majority consisting of council members Ho, Tai Do and Carlos Manzo. The council majority supported placing the issue on the ballot.  

“With the short period of time, I do not know how the community can submit comments or inputs to the two processes,” Ta said in a written response to Voice of OC questions Monday.

“It’s a really narrow window but we are coordinating with the county to make sure we meet the deadlines,” Colombo said.

Categories
News Redistricting

Redistricting could split Latino vote in Orange

By TESS SHEETS | tsheets@scng.com |PUBLISHED: January 17, 2022 at 5:23 p.m. | UPDATED: January 18, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.

With new census data in hand, Orange leaders have begun the once-a-decade process of adjusting voting boundaries, but some residents are concerned the existing district representing the El Modena neighborhood and communities west of the 55 Freeway could be split up, possibly diluting the voice of the Latino residents in the area.

With nearly 20 maps submitted before a public hearing last month, the City Council is now focusing on four to consider further. Only one of those proposes keeping the existing District 5 – stretching from South Tustin Avenue to Hewes Avenue – intact.

Sam Rodriguez, whose family has lived in the historic El Modena enclave for generations, called the proposals that split up District 5 “a power grab,” saying the maps “gerrymander, and they dilute the Latino vote.”

But city officials note the council has not declared a vote on any particular map, and residents can still submit proposals through the end of the month for consideration.

From cities up through Congress, the recent federal census has kicked off required redistricting efforts to adjust boundaries in order to even out the representation of populations.

Out of nearly 20 maps submitted before a public hearing last month, the Orange City Council focused on four to consider further. Only one of those proposed keeping the existing District 5 intact. (Courtesy of the City of Orange.)

Between the 2010 and 2020 census counts, Orange, along with many California cities, was challenged for how its representatives were chosen. As the result of a lawsuit over its at-large voting system, the city moved to a by-district election process, where council members are selected by voters in their district, instead of by all voters citywide. The idea is a smaller voting area creates the opportunity for minority communities to gain representation and makes campaigning for council a less expensive prospect.

With the new census data, the council is looking now at adjustments to the six districts that were created – the mayor is still chosen by all voters.

Rodriguez said he reached out to Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman after the council’s December meeting, concerned about the possibility District 5 would be split, losing ground made in giving the Latino community a voice in city government. Shenkman, who sued the city in 2019 over its at-large election system, sent a letter to Orange’s city attorney last week, saying the three maps proposing to break up the district would “significantly reduce the Latino proportion.”

The three proposed maps would reduce the voting-age Latino population in the district to closer to 30%, he said. Leaving District 5 as is would create a 59% Latino majority, 40% of whom are voting age, he said.

Shenkman stopped short of threatening the city with legal action in his letter, but he said recent elections resulted in a Latina member on the council from the district, Ana Gutierrez, and he hoped Orange “will not attempt to reverse that progress by diluting the Latino vote in this new round of redistricting.”

Rodriguez said “prior to the lawsuit, we would have never had a chance to run a Latina or Latino from the barrio.”

“The city has been playing games, because they want to retain power,” Rodriguez said. “They think that they can change the maps here and there for the next election.”

Gutierrez noted the city’s leaders have not yet voted on a final map, but said in a text message she “will abide by the laws that regulate this process” and hopes other council members do the same. Voting rights law prohibits diluting the voice of a minority group, such as through deliberately splitting up – or packing – a district.

Mayor Mark Murphy said at least some existing district boundaries will likely change because of population growth in District 1 between the last census and now, which will need to be evened out.

“Some of that population has got to go somewhere, and it may affect all the districts, it may affect the majority of them,” he said. “I just don’t know yet.”

City spokesman Paul Sitkoff said a demographer is making some edits on the maps selected by the City Council at the December meeting, and officials didn’t want to comment on how the districts might shake out until those come back for consideration in February.

City officials have not responded to Shenkman’s letter, Sitkoff said.

The submission period for residents to turn in more proposals also remains open, he said.

To residents concerned about the process, Murphy said “just say stay involved.”

“It’s very premature to start analyzing things until we get everything in front of us,” he said.

The final deadline for residents to submit maps for consideration is Jan. 28. Another public hearing will take place Feb. 8, and the City Council is expected to choose the final districts in March.

Categories
News Redistricting

Our guide to redistricting: Ten years of twists and turns and a wild, rushed finish

WASHINGTON — 

In 2022, it’s out with the old maps, and in with the new.

Redistricting, the once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional and state legislative maps based on the U.S. Census, is underway, but things are pretty different this time.

The latest redrawing session follows a decade of ambitious voter reforms, seismic changes to the legal landscape, demographic shifts that have rearranged political power and a pandemic that has condensed and complicated the timeline for completing redistricting on-time.

The congressional maps that emerge in the coming months will determine whose voices are heard in Washington and shape the balance of power there for years to come.

The two parties have taken different approaches to drawing the maps where they have control: Republicans are generally shoring up their gains over the last decade, while Democrats are searching for new opportunities for blue seats. GOP lawmakers control map drawing in states covering 187 congressional districts, while Democrats control 75 seats. Independent commissions or states with split party rule are set to draw the rest.

Congressional maps in at least 10 states face challenges in state and federal courts, according to All About Redistricting, a database run by Loyola Law School, and more lawsuits are expected.

President Joe Biden meets with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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“Most of the time, if your side is not in control, you have very little incentive not to sue,” Jason Torchinsky, a Republican lawyer whose clients include the National Republican Redistricting Trust.

Of the maps that have been approved, several have endangered the political futures of members of Congress. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) retired after Democrats in his state (which lost a congressional district) eliminated his seat, while Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) directly cited Republican map drawing in his decision to not seek reelection. New district lines have forced incumbents to primary each other in Michigan, Georgia and West Virginia.

But electoral maps are about more than the fate of any one politician, or party.

Below is our guide to navigating the major changes to the redistricting process this cycle.

Why the Census delay matters

The Census results that states use to draw their maps weren’t released until August 2020, five months later than planned. That delay has forced states to rush the mapping process or extend deadlines.

“Everybody is crunched,” said Marina Jenkins, the director of litigation and policy at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “A number of states had timelines that demanded unrealistic and very difficult mapping schedules. And in some states … they continued to take their time, perhaps cynically, to delay the possibility of having that map challenged.”

In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court halted candidate filing last month and pushed the March primary election back two months while it considers challenges against the map lawmakers approved in the fall. Many courts will be reluctant to take a similar approach.

“A judge doesn’t want to create that disruption,” said Doug Spencer, a law professor at the University of Colorado and the head of All About Redistricting. “So the closer we get to the filing deadlines, the more likely courts are to just maintain the current maps for 2022.”

The delay has also changed who gets to draw the maps. In some states, independent commissions missed deadlines for drawing maps and had to hand the job over to another body.

The Supreme Court effect

For the first time in decades, mapmakers in 15 states with histories of voter discrimination will now be free to implement maps without federal approval.

From 1965, when the Voting Rights Act passed, until 2013, states including Texas, Alabama and Virginia, as well as certain counties in states like California, needed to seek federal approval, or preclearance, if they wanted to make changes to their voting laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby vs. Holder that the decades-old formula used to determine which states needed to seek preclearance was outdated.

That’s allowed states with a history of making it harder for people of color to vote to enact broad changes, including passing new voter ID laws, closing polling places, and now redraw maps, without government oversight.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris speak to reporters as the prepare to depart the U.S. Capitol after marking the one year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by supporters loyal to then-President Donald Trump, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington. (Ken Cedeno/Pool via AP)

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In Texas, the new congressional map is being challenged in court for potentially diluting the influence of voters of color. While the Census found that Latinos, Black Americans and other minority groups made up 95% of the massive population growth that earned the state two new congressional districts, the state’s new map did not include any districts reflecting that change. The Department of Justice announced Dec. 6 it was suing to overturn the state’s congressional map.

If the state were still subject to federal approval, the department likely would have blocked the map before it went into effect.

“Now the burden is on DOJ to convince the court that the map is discriminatory,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the democracy program at the Brennan Center, a law and policy institute. “It’s a totally different ballgame.”

More recently, the Supreme Court has also made it harder for political groups and parties to challenge partisan gerrymanders — maps drawn in a way that appear to unfairly benefit one party.

In 2019’s Rucho vs. Common Cause, the Supreme Court considered complaints from Democrats in North Carolina and Republicans in Maryland that maps drawn by the opposing party created partisan gerrymanders. While the court agreed the maps in question were “highly partisan,” it ruled such cases “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

As a result, those cases are instead playing out in state courts, where results are influenced by the political leanings of specific panels and how they interpret the voter protections in their state constitutions.

What about independent commissions?

Independent commissions debuted in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Utah and Virginia last year. In Colorado and Michigan, the commissions are made up of bipartisan groups of citizens (not chosen by lawmakers). Both their maps added new competitive districts and have received positive ratings for partisan fairness from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

But this cycle has shown that not all reforms are created equal: “What we’ve learned is that the structure of the commission matters a lot,” said Adam Podowitz-Thomas a senior legal strategist of the Princeton group.

In Utah, the legislature voted in 2020 to water down the commission’s power by giving it an advisory role. While the commission’s proposed maps would have created one seat favoring Democrats and three favoring Republicans, the legislature approved a map with four solidly Republican seats.

In Ohio, where voters approved a ballot measure in 2018 to encourage fairness and explicitly ban partisan gerrymandering, a seven-member panel of politicians failed to approve new congressional maps by the deadline, leaving the task to the GOP-controlled legislature. Soon after the map was signed into law in November, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and others challenged the map, arguing that it violates a clause in the state constitution against favoring one party over another.

In New York — which lost one congressional seat this year — Democrats in the state legislature appear ready to disregard maps from the state’s new advisory independent commission and draft maps that boost their party’s margin.

Two parties, two approaches

In 2010, Republicans flipped more than a dozen state legislative chambers, giving them a significant advantage in redrawing congressional districts during the 2011 redistricting cycle.

Last year, Democrats attempted to win back some of those legislatures ahead of this years’ map drawing. While Democrats were unsuccessful, Republicans don’t appear likely to gain a significant number of seats through redistricting.

Instead, they’ve taken up a new strategy: make red seats redder.

Republicans in most states didn’t undertake what Li of the Brennan Center calls “land grab” gerrymanders — essentially using the map to create more GOP-leaning districts. Instead, they’ve shored up the districts they already hold, protecting them from the demographic changes that allowed Democrats to flip GOP-held seats in the tail end of the last decade.

Spencer, of All About Redistricting, said Republicans will likely have a net gain of two to three seats nationwide that lean in their favor when redistricting is complete. “Republicans did such a good job of gerrymandering in 2010 that they didn’t have a lot of room to grow,” he said.

Ho, Lawrence K. –– B581350096Z.1 CULVER CITY, CA. JUN. 16, 2011. Jim Dear, Mayor of Carson giving his comments with the redistricting map behind him at the hearng. Public comments on the newly developed congressional redistricting map at Culver City Hall on Jun. 16, 2011.(Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

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Democrats, however, are making an effort to create new blue seats in the states where they have control. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave F grades on partisan fairness to maps drawn by Democratic legislatures in Illinois, Oregon and Maryland. In New York, where Republicans currently hold eight congressional districts, experts predict Republicans could lose up to five seats if Democrats are aggressive.

Democrats say that unlike Republicans, maps drawn by their party reflect the changing diversity of the country and keep communities intact.

“It’s just not apples to apples,” Jenkins of the Democratic redistricting group said of the comparison. “The maps in Democratic states are representing their voters in a way that reflects reality, in a way that is not happening in Texas, for example.”

The Princeton project has also given F grades to Texas’ congressional map and a proposed map out of Ohio. Georgia’s pending map received a C. Several states have yet to receive a grade.

National Republicans say their path to controlling the House doesn’t depend on redistricting.

“Republicans have had the same mindset throughout the redistricting process … redistricting alone is not going to deliver a majority for House Republicans,” said Michael McAdams, the NRCC’s communications director. “We’re going to need to run competitive races all over the country in order to win a majority for the third time in nearly 70 years.”

Categories
News Redistricting

OC’s new districts shuffle incumbents

Surrounded by other local, state and federal officials, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach following an offshore oil spill. Porter plans to run in 2022 for a newly drawn coastal district that includes her hometown of Irvine. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)By BROOKE STAGGS | bstaggs@scng.com | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: December 20, 2021 at 6:29 p.m. | UPDATED: December 20, 2021 at 8:26 p.m.

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter on Monday said she’ll run for reelection in 2022 in a newly drawn coastal district that includes her hometown of Irvine, not her current House seat.

The news came after the California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission released final maps for all U.S. House districts in California. The maps, which also change district boundaries for state Assembly and Senate seats throughout California, are part of once-in-a-decade process to balance populations based on latest census data.

Orange County will lose one voice in Washington, D.C. when the new maps take effect next year. The district now represented by Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, will move north, shrinking the number of House seats that touch Orange County from seven to six.

Lowenthal announced Thursday that he doesn’t plan to run for reelection in 2022.

Porter’s shift to the coastal district, where voter registration will lean Democrat by just one point, raises the prospect of Porter facing off against GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, who lives in Seal Beach. It’s also possible that Steel, who is Korean-American, will run in a new House district that includes Little Saigon and parts of north Orange County. It is estimated that the new district will be about 38% Asian American, but voter registration will lean Democrat by about 5 percentage points.

District residency isn’t a requirement for House members, even though it’s considered politically favorable. And, despite a disadvantage in voter registration, Steel might face better odds in the north county district simply because it wouldn’t pit her against Porter, who has a national profile and raised more money last quarter than any other Democrat in the House.https://public.tableau.com/views/RedistrictingCACongressional/Map?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&publish=yes&:toolbar=no&:showVizHome=no

Meanwhile, Steel’s fellow GOP Congresswoman and longtime friend, Rep. Young Kim, who’s also Korean American, lives just outside the new north county district. Her stretch of La Habra was drawn in with a Los Angeles County district that roughly aligns with one now represented by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Whitter.

Political observers are speculating that Kim will run in the new version of Porter’s old seat, which now will be heavily Republican as it stretches from Rancho Mission Viejo north through Yorba Linda and into Chino Hills in San Bernardino County.

Neither of the GOP freshmen would say Monday where they planned to run in 2022, or if they’d move homes to do so. Their campaign consultant Sam Oh said Monday that Steel and Kim “will be weighing their options once the Congressional maps are finalized and approved by the California Redistricting Commission.”

Commission members were expected to approve the final maps late Monday, after the Register’s deadline, and then hold a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol on Dec. 27 as they turn final maps over to the Secretary of State.

Legal challenges still are possible. But once approved maps for California’s 52 Congressional districts, 80 Assembly districts and 40 State Senate districts otherwise will hold until the next redistricting, after the 2030 Census.

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Drafts of the maps released last month drew Seal Beach, where Steel lives, out of the north coastal district. But final maps put it back, which sets Steel up for a fight against Porter unless she moves or runs out of the district where she lives.

There’s also a question about Democrat Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach, who formerly held Steel’s seat but lost to her in 2020.

As of last week, Rouda said he still planned to challenge Steel again and try to flip the coastal seat back, calling the new district “more competitive than ever before.” But with Porter now running for that seat, that puts Rouda in a tough spot for 2022, since he doesn’t have the benefits of incumbency, the funds or the national profile that Porter brings to the race.

Democrat Jay Chen, who’s been campaigning against Kim in the current CA-39 race for months, said Monday nigt he’s now running in the new north O.C. district that includes Little Saigon. It’s not yet clear if he’ll then face Kim, Steel or another GOP challenger. His campaign also didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether he’ll move from Hacienda Heights into the targeted district.

Changes to districts represented by Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, and Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, were more minor. But they did make Levin’s district a bit more competitive for his GOP challengers, going from a few-point advantage for Democrats to a dead heat between registered Republicans and Democrats under the new maps.

The public can continue to weigh in on the maps through Dec. 27, and the commission still has live-streamed meetings scheduled over the next week.