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OC supervisors will talk redistricting, could choose new boundaries Nov. 9

Orange County supervisors are on the verge of choosing a new map setting the boundaries of their districts for the next 10 years that could shake up next year’s elections, when three of the board’s five seats will be on the ballot.

While much attention is focused on Congressional redistricting, all political subdivisions – think state legislatures to city councils – must adjust their boundaries after every federal census to ensure fair and equal representation, and to make sure they comply with voting rights laws.

In OC, the Board of Supervisors has six potential maps, tweaked by the county leaders from submissions by residents and community interest groups, that could be narrowed down to one choice as soon as Tuesday, Nov. 8. Several of the maps would dramatically change which communities are in each district.

Changes to district lines matter because they can strengthen or dilute the voting power of all kinds of groups with shared interests, including neighborhoods, people with shared ethnic or religious backgrounds, and – even though county supervisor seats are technically nonpartisan – political parties.

One key objective is to balance how many people live in each district so everyone in the county gets the same level of representation on the Board of Supervisors.

Because of uneven growth since 2011, when the current district lines were drawn, District 3 (including Anaheim Hills, Tustin, Yorba Linda, canyon communities and part of Irvine) and District 4 (the rest of Anaheim and cities to the north including Placentia and Brea) will need to lose residents and District 1 (Santa Ana, Westminster, Garden Grove and part of Fountain Valley), District 2 (Costa Mesa, Stanton, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Seal Beach) and District 5 (part of Irvine and most of South County) will need to add them.

The goal is to get as close as possible to 638,602 residents in each.

Another goal is to honor geographic and other boundaries. The current lines split six cities between districts, something the board will try to keep to a minimum with any new map.

Whichever map is chosen, it also must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, which says it’s illegal to deny or weaken anyone’s vote based on their race. That’s why a big focus in Orange County is on how the proposed maps affect Latino and Asian-American residents, whose shares of the county’s overall population have grown significantly over the past two decades.

An analysis of census data by the UCLA Voting Rights Project found Orange County’s White population has shrunk from 51.3% in 2000 to 37.6% in 2020; in the same period, Latinos as a group have grown from 30.8% to 34.1% of the population, and Asians went from 13.5% to 21.9% of county residents. Over those 20 years, Orange County grew from 2.8 million to 3.1 million inhabitants.

Many residents who weighed in at a Nov. 2 public hearing on county redistricting advocated for a map that would create a majority Latino district and avoid dividing Asian American communities in the northwestern part of the county; others who emailed the board asked that beach cities be grouped in one district, that canyon communities in southeast county be kept together, and that cities not be split between districts.

For some residents, redistricting is a chance to fix what they say is the partisan nature of the current boundaries.

In 2011, supervisors drew lines that some think were intended to shore up Republican power on the board, which disenfranchised non-white residents, said Dan Ichinose, research director for the Orange County Civic Engagement Table, a nonpartisan group that created the People’s Redistricting Alliance. The alliance submitted one of the maps supervisors are considering.

Ichinose said the goal of his group’s map is to keep together communities with common interests, such as Vietnamese Americans in Garden Grove and Westminster who share experiences as refugees. It also addresses the fact that communities of color now make up about 62% of the county.

“A fair map, not considering party politics, should really reflect our community’s demographic reality,” he said. “We’re looking at drawing fair maps that look to provide opportunities for communities in need, regardless of their racial and ethnic background, to have a voice in county government.”

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Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do, who represents District 1, said while he’s not going to base his choice of map on which party it appears to favor, “anybody who says that politics doesn’t play a role in the decision making is being disingenuous.”

His goal, he said, is to “draw a map and be as fair as possible and make sure it’s defensible in court” in case it’s challenged.

There’s still time for residents to learn about the process and have their say. People can watch or attend a public hearing starting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, email their comments to board members or submit feedback through the county’s redistricting website, www.cob.ocgov.com/2021-redistricting, which has the proposed maps, demographic data and other information. Find interactive maps under the “Redistricting Proposals Submitted” tab.

While Ichinose would have liked to see more community interest earlier in the process, he said, “we really do hope that folks become more involved. This is the home stretch.”

The Board of Supervisors will hold several more hearings on redistricting this month and expects to finalize new district boundaries by Dec. 15.

Public Can Weigh in Tuesday on Proposed Maps Affecting OC Representation for Next Decade

It’s a decision that will reshape political power and community representation for the next decade.

And at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the public will get a chance to weigh in.

That’s when the county is holding its first hearing on proposed maps for redistricting the powerful seats of Orange County supervisors – who decide on billions of dollars a year in health, law enforcement and social safety net spending.

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The supervisors themselves will ultimately decide which communities will go in which district – with new state laws placing limits on considering incumbency, candidates and political parties when redrawing the maps.

They’ll be considering eight proposed maps from the public, available for review here.

Paul Mitchell, a leading redistricting analyst and consultant in California, said shifting demographics now call for a majority Latino district in Orange County – a shift from the current map approved in 2011 that splits Latino-majority cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana.

“I do believe in Orange County that they have a responsibility to draw a majority-minority Latino district around Santa Ana. And I think they should be drawing a district that’s an opportunity district for the Asian-American community to the west of that,” said Mitchell, the owner of Redistricting Partners and vice president of Political Data Inc., in a phone interview last week.

“If I was to look at maps and not see both of those elements, then I would probably feel that plan is falling short.”

While the process is legally aimed at keeping communities together and not politicians’ election chances, questions have mounted about whether supervisors are aiming to trade parts of their districts to engineer safer re-elections by jettisoning areas that didn’t vote for them, and adding in areas that are more favorable at the ballot box.

Areas getting particular attention among county insiders are whether supervisors will move the heavily Democratic communities of Santa Ana, UC Irvine and Laguna Beach out of Republican supervisors’ districts and into nearby districts represented by the board’s two Democratic supervisors.

The only supervisor who returned previous calls for comment about that issue was Doug Chaffee, who said he wasn’t aware of any such plans.

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It’s crucial for the public to get involved in the process, said Mitchell.

“I think the public needs to be engaged. And if they’re engaged and the [Board of Supervisors is] being pushed to follow the Voting Rights Act, and [supervisors] do it in an honest way, they should draw maps that are in the interest of the public and not get them sued.”

So far, one map is known to have generated support among community activist groups – one the county labeled “Proposal 5.”

Activists are calling it the “People’s Map,” saying it’s based on extensive outreach to ask residents which communities they want to be represented with.

“We did quite a bit of work going door to door … canvassing and talking to community members – not just those who are politically represented or those who have quite a bit of power,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA).

“This was done with everyday community members, to hear their voices about what they wanted. And what resulted was the map we’ll be presententing.”

The groups supporting that map include OCAPICA, the ACLU of Southern California and Orange County Civic Engagement Table.

Supervisor Katrina Foley said she’ll be making sure the laws are followed as the maps are redrawn.

“The redistricting process is designed to serve the public by empowering communities that share common bonds so those communities can be heard with as strong a voice as possible. As a County Supervisor, I’m committed to ensuring this process is fair and transparent and respects all federal and state laws that relate to redistricting,” she said in a text message Friday.

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Supervisor Don Wagner said some of the proposed maps are “good starting points.”

“I’m not sure any of them can or would get adopted without some tweaks,” Wagner said in a text message Friday.

“I absolutely encourage the public to weigh in on those maps on Tuesday. I don’t think Tuesday will be the end of the process. We have some work still to do and encourage further public participation.”

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she was still reviewing the maps, and encouraged residents to participate.

“The voice of the public is an important component in the redistricting process,” Bartlett said in a text message Friday to Voice of OC.

The other two supervisors didn’t return messages for comment about the redistricting process.

Redistricting is inherently political, said Jon Fleischman, an OC-based conservative activist who formerly served as executive director of the California Republican Party.

“I see redistricting as fundamentally a political process. Other people may see it as something else. But these are the drawing of political boundaries, and I don’t see how you get any more political than that,” he said in a phone interview last week.

“Most of the time voters are picking their politicians. This is the one time every 10 years where politicians get to pick their voters.”

The new state laws against using political factors for redrawing the lines stand in contrast with how this actually works, Fleischman said.

“I don’t know how realistic that is,” he said of the new legal limits.

“It’s naive to think you can divorce politics from the process. It just doesn’t happen that way.”

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OC Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño said there should be both a Latino district and an Asian American district on the Board of Supervisors.

“I also think there is an important factor that needs to be looked at while creating this district, and that’s the income level and home ownership – whether it’s rental or home ownership ratio,” Briceño told Voice of OC last week.

“So would Little Saigon have more in common with a wealthier community like Huntington Beach, or more working class communities like Stanton and Buena Park?”

Messages for comment were not returned by Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker and Executive Director Randall Avila.

The last time OC supervisors redrew the boundaries, they handed off the process to their own political aides and focused on protecting their own seats.

“Continuity of representation” was the way supervisors put it in their goals for redistricting a decade ago.

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During the 2011 redistricting, Latino and Vietnamese resident groups criticized the county for not doing much of its redistricting work in public.

Voice of OC reported at the time that at their few public meetings, committee members heard public concerns and then, with little discussion, voted for the maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.

The final map approved in 2011 split Orange County’s sizable Latino community into two districts.

And it redrew the supervisors’ district boundaries in a way that a local Republican Party leader said guaranteed GOP victories in all five seats.

The next few years did go on to yield solid wins for the GOP, with Republican candidates winning all county supervisor elections in the seven years after the maps were redrawn.

After Tuesday’s hearing, there’s another public hearing a week later on Nov. 9 where supervisors could decide on a map to move forward with.

Or they can hold a third hearing on Nov. 16 and pick a map then.

Then, the chosen map goes for a final public hearing on Dec. 7, and supervisors have until Dec. 15 to lock in their final approval of the map.

The maps will be used for the June primary next year, and will be in effect for the following decade.

Correction: This article has been updated to include comment from Supervisor Don Wagner.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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Press Release

Community Organizations Release ‘People’s Map’ Amidst Growing Concerns of Partisanship in Orange County Board of Supervisors Redistricting

Garden Grove, CA:  Amidst growing concerns of partisanship in the redrawing of Orange County Board of Supervisors legislative districts, a coalition of community organizations working to engage low-income people of color in the process released its proposed map, reflecting months of community input.  A coalition of 17 groups, the People’s Redistricting Alliance has been meeting since January to educate, mobilize, and create maps that promote greater responsiveness to community needs like access to healthcare and affordable housing.

The Alliance includes the ACLU of Southern California, AHRI Center, Arab American Civic Council, California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Latino Health Access, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, Orange County Civic Engagement Table, Orange County Congregation Community Organization, Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, Orange County Environmental Justice, Orange County Voter Information Project, Pacific Islander Health Partnership, Resilience Orange County, South Asian Network, and VietRISE.

“This is the people’s map,” said Jonathan Paik, Brea resident and executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table (OCCET), which has been convening the Alliance.  “Communities across Orange County worked together to draw the most representative maps possible, ensuring that every community member in Orange County will be properly represented.”

The Board will be required to follow federal and state law prohibiting both racial discrimination and partisanship or risk litigation.  An analysis of official redistricting data released by the Statewide Database at UC, Berkeley in September and other data confirms that the federal Voting Rights Act requires the County to draw a supervisorial district around cohesive Latinx communities in Santa Ana and surrounding areas.  Adopted in 2019, California State Assembly Bill 849, known as the Fair Maps Act, demands that districts be drawn without consideration of partisan politics.

“Federal law mandates that the County draw a VRA district where the Latinx community has the opportunity to elect a candidate of choice,” said Julia Gomez, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California and member of the Alliance.  “Partisanship is also now against the law, which means that the County cannot use the VRA district as a pretext to strengthen the influence of one party or to limit Latinx influence in other districts.”

In the face of tremendous demographic change over the past 30 years, conservative political actors in Orange County have used redistricting to disenfranchise new, disproportionately immigrant residents.  According to a 2011 article in the Voice of OC, the Republican Party of Orange County worked with incumbents during the last redistricting process to draw maps that protected the party’s interests, primarily by pitting Latinx and Vietnamese American residents against each other (Voice of OC, August 24, 2011).  With Republicans holding a majority on the Board, community organizations in the Alliance are increasingly concerned about partisan gerrymandering again this year.

“We have been working diligently with so many communities across the county to develop our map”, said Mary Anne Foo, executive director at the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance and member of the Alliance.  “Community voices will be erased if a partisan map is being drawn behind closed doors.”

The Alliance map can be found online at peoplesredistricting.org.

Members of the public wishing to support the map are encouraged to email the Board by following links at peoplesredistricting.org.  The public is also encouraged to attend public hearings in November during which the Board will discuss and decide on which maps to adopt.  For more information on those hearings, please email redistricting@occivic.org.
More information about the People’s Redistricting Alliance can be found online at peoplesredistricting.org .

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Media Inquiries: Yongho Kim, Communications Consultant, OCCET, yongho@occivic.org

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Updates

California’s Redistricting Commission Faces Big Diversity Challenges in Drawing Maps

Redistricting — the redrawing of maps for congressional, legislative and local seats — happens every ten years after the Census. Its goal? To make sure everyone is represented equally.

In 2008, California voters took redistricting for state offices away from the Legislature — which often drew maps to the advantage of elected officials or one political party — and gave the power to an independent commission. In 2010, voters added congressional maps to the commission’s duties. One of the cardinal rules that voters set: Consider diversity, including abiding by the Voting Rights Act.

The track record of the Citizens Redistricting Commission is mixed on that score. Statewide, Latinos make up 30% of the voting age population, but are a majority in just 19% of the 173 congressional and legislative districts, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. And that’s only a slight increase from the 15% under the old maps. Asian Americans are nearly 15% of the population, but a majority in just one district, while there is still no district where African Americans are the majority. 

Still, between 2012 and 2020, the commission’s new districts largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California, according to a study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute: The number of Latinos and Asian Americans elected to Congress doubled, and the numbers of Latino, Black and Asian American legislators also increased, compared to election results from the maps drawn by the Legislature after the 2000 census.

This round of redistricting is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest,” including ethnic enclaves, together for city and county districts. (That was already the case for congressional and legislative districts.) The 2019 FAIR MAPS Act also requires public input at every step of the process, so across California, local advocacy groups are banding together to propose maps.

But even these advocates say it’s impossible to take partisanship out of the process entirely. And this time around, the priority on diverse representation — and the fight for political power —is also being complicated by several factors:

The commission is holding a series of public hearings, including today and Friday. It plans to release preliminary maps for 52 U.S. House districts and 120 state Assembly and Senate districts by Nov. 15 and has until Dec. 27 to submit its final districts so they can be used for the June 2022 primaries. Here’s a look at some key community movements to shape the districts:  

Los Angeles County

The People’s Bloc — an alliance of 34 groups working to ensure ethnic communities in Los Angeles County aren’t divided — was born with the 2020 Census.

The bloc includes the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, founded by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass in 1990 to address substance abuse, poverty and crime in South Los Angeles. With a federal grant, Bass organized against a surplus of liquor stores and for better land-use policies, school funding and foster care. 

The six-term representative and former Congressional Black Caucus chairperson announced Sept. 27 that she’s running for L.A. mayor this year. That has fueled speculation that, given the need to drop a district, the 37th District she represents could be redrawn in a way that dilutes the power of Black voters. The district includes the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Pico-Robertson and South Los Angeles, among others, as well as Culver City and the unincorporated communities of View Park and Ladera Heights. 

Now, 29% of the district’s voting-age population is African American, 27% Latino and 11% Asian according to the new PPIC analysis. The neighboring 43rd District, represented by Maxine Waters, is 28% Black, and the 44th District, represented by Nanette Barragán, is 22% Black.   

During a redistricting commission meeting Wednesday, a consultant said that Black people often vote in concert with Latinos so they would be adequately represented in a coalition district. But several commissioners said based on public input, they would consider a Black majority congressional district in Los Angeles County. There are also maps that would create as many as five Latino majority districts in the county.

Advocates say the need to keep Black communities together became clear during the 2003 flooding of Watts. In 2001, the neighborhood was divided into three different congressional and legislative districts, confusing residents as to which representatives to turn to for help, according to Common Cause, a government watchdog group. In the 2011 redistricting, the neighborhood was brought together into one district, the 44th. 

In addition to that history, the need for the People’s Bloc became clear during the efforts last year to get people to fill out the census forms, said Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Coalition. The Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question on the form deterred people from filling it out, as did COVID-19. The protests after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd were another factor.

The new alliance is involved not only in the congressional map, but new city council districts being drawn by a local commission appointed by council members and the mayor.

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“We wanted to make sure that the Black community was protected throughout this redistricting process, that they are included in the process by having representatives that reflect their interests and their communities,” Samuels said.  

Fair representation will help Black neighborhoods have access to funding and resources, he said: “We want to make sure that when these lines are drawn that they’re drawn in a way that brings assets back to these communities, that brings investment back to these communities.” 

Fresno County

Fresno County isn’t the same county it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Its total population grew from 930,450 in 2010 to more than 1 million in the last decade, and its Hispanic or Latino population grew to 53.6% from 50.3%.

Both sides in the unsuccessful effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom focused on Latino voters, who comprise California’s largest ethnic group, at 39% of the statewide population, and an increasing share of registered voters, at 28%. 

With the changing population, it’s no surprise there was backlash to comments by some Fresno County supervisors, who adopt the board districts, about their intent to keep them largely the same.

After the ACLU sent a letter to supervisors on Sept. 16 warning them that they would be violating the law, two of them told the Fresno Bee that they would follow the law.

But activists are still wary. 

“Twenty years ago they put a rubber stamp, and now they’re just fiddling around the edges,” said Pablo Rodriguez, founding executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, a group focused on civic engagement. 

That can result in gerrymandering, either through “packing” — concentrating blocs of voters to limit their power to one district — or “cracking” — spreading voters out so that their influence is diluted. 

Ariana Marmolejo, communications associate with the education fund, said in the current proposed supervisor maps, every community of interest in the coalition is split. “When communities are divided they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves,” Marmolejo said. 

In Fresno County, that means decisions on public health, public works projects and, in the bigger picture, the region’s growing inequality. Census data from 2019 showed that about 1 in every 5 residents was living in extreme poverty.And a history of exclusionary housing policies means that extreme poverty is concentrated into certain areas at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Without significant changes in supervisor districts, that cycle is likely to continue, Marmolejo said. 

“Neighborhoods are going to change, kids are going to grow old. And then you’ve entirely disenfranchised a new generation of people,” Marmolejo said. “This has shaped Fresno. This is why we are where we are today.” 

And while many of these community groups have long been organizing for representation, Marmolego said the FAIR MAPS Act gives them support and legal protection. Another thing that helps: technology that lets groups share proposed maps and coordinate within the alliance, or even with other groups in the state.

“Even at the state level, because we lost a congressional district, everything in California is going to look different,” said Rodriguez. “There’s going to be a lot of tension… There are incredible ramifications. And we have to balance federal law with making sure we keep communities of interest whole.” 

Orange and San Diego Counties

While this year’s redistricting process fosters a more grassroots approach, it has its obstacles. Sometimes a single map can’t meet all the desires of every community. There are also limitations of the Census data itself. 

Orange County is home to “Little Arabia,” where there is a large Arab population, including immigrants and refugees. But according to census data, Arab Americans are counted as white. That means Arab American communities don’t always see the resources they need, said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab-American Civic Council in Anaheim. 

A parking plaza in the Little Arabia neighborhood of Anaheim is adorned with various flags from countries in the Middle East on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Deric Mendes for CalMatters

Like the Central Valley, the demographics in Orange County have changed over the last 20 years, and the maps should reflect that, Al-Dabbagh said. 

“That is the whole point of the census and redistricting — to ensure that communities have a say in this process,” he said. “We’re not a rich, white county like people assume, or how it used to be. We’re very diverse.” 

The council is one of the 16 groups that make up the People’s Redistricting Alliance, which, like the other coalitions in the state, aims to make sure redistricting isn’t driven by partisanship or solely by race, but instead leads to representation of communities’ struggles.

Those challengesinclude people who are struggling to pay rent, or who need services from a community center. “Those are the experiences that we wanted to be able to uplift, which are the experiences that are often erased from the process,” said Jonathan Paik, executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table, which spearheaded the formation of the alliance.   

In San Diego County, how residents’ different experiences should be considered in redistricting is up for debate. There has been a push for wealthiercoastal cities to be grouped together, separate from inland communities, as well as a push to keep the military communities close to Camp Pendleton together.

And while the process is meant to be free of partisanship, it can still creep into public hearings

“It makes sense to me that people would be calling to ensure that there are districts that are drawn that will ensure their interests in farming, or equestrian desires, or parks or waterways or fire concerns,” said Citizens Redistricting commissioner Trena Turner. “All of that makes sense — that you want a district drawn where an elected official will become one that understands your issues. “

The public comments that give Turner pause, though, are ones with threads of racism or prejudice. 

“For me it’s one of those eyebrow-raising comments. Does that have to do anything with the issues you want to protect? Or are you making a judgment call about the people in that area?”  

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

Local Communities Push State Redistricting Commission to Keep ‘Ethnic Enclaves’ Together

Redistricting — the redrawing of maps for congressional, legislative and local seats — happens every 10 years after the census. Its goal? To make sure everyone is represented equally.

In 2008, California voters took redistricting for state offices away from the Legislature — which often drew maps to the advantage of elected officials or one political party — and gave the power to an independent commission. In 2010, voters added congressional maps to the commission’s duties. One of the cardinal rules that voters set: Consider diversity, including abiding by the Voting Rights Act.

The track record of the Citizens Redistricting Commission is mixed on that score. Statewide, Latinos make up 30% of the voting age population, but are a majority in just 19% of the 173 congressional and legislative districts, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. And that’s only a slight increase from the 15% under the old maps. Asian Americans are nearly 15% of the population, but a majority in just one district, while there is still no district where African Americans are the majority.

Still, between 2012 and 2020, the commission’s new districts largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California, according to a study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy: The number of Latinos and Asian Americans elected to Congress doubled, and the numbers of Latino, Black and Asian American legislators also increased, compared to election results from the maps drawn by the Legislature after the 2000 census.’When communities are divided, they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves.’Ariana Marmolejo, communications associate, Communities for a New California Education Fund

This round of redistricting is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest,” including ethnic enclaves, together. The 2019 FAIR MAPS Act also requires public input at every step of the process, so across California, local advocacy groups are banding together to propose maps.

But even these advocates say it’s impossible to take partisanship out of the process entirely. And this time around, the priority on diverse representation — and the fight for political power — is being complicated by several factors:

The commission is holding a series of public hearings, including today and Friday. It plans to release preliminary maps for 52 U.S. House districts and 120 state Assembly and Senate districts by Nov. 15 and has until Dec. 27 to submit its final districts so they can be used for the June 2022 primaries. Here’s a look at some key community movements to shape the districts:

Los Angeles County

The People’s Bloc — an alliance of 34 groups working to ensure that ethnic communities in Los Angeles County aren’t divided — was born with the 2020 census.

The bloc includes the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, founded by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass in 1990 to address substance addiction, poverty and crime in South Los Angeles. With a federal grant, Bass organized against a surplus of liquor stores and for better land-use policies, school funding and foster care.

A woman with short hair, glasses, and a blue blazer, sitting behind a podium with a "Ms. Bass" nameplate, speaks before two American flags.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington. D.C., on June 10, 2020. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP)

The six-term representative and former Congressional Black Caucus chairperson announced Sept. 27 that she’s running for L.A. mayor this year. That has fueled speculation that, given the need to drop a district, the 37th District she represents could be redrawn in a way that dilutes the power of Black voters. The district includes the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Pico-Robertson and South Los Angeles, among others, as well as Culver City and the unincorporated communities of View Park and Ladera Heights.

Now, 29% of the district’s voting-age population is African American, 27% is Latino and 11% is Asian, according to the new PPIC analysis. The neighboring 43rd District, represented by Maxine Waters, is 28% Black, and the 44th District, represented by Nanette Barragán, is 22% Black.

During a redistricting commission meeting Wednesday, a consultant said that Black people often vote in concert with Latinos so they would be adequately represented in a coalition district. But several commissioners said based on public input, they would consider a Black majority congressional district in Los Angeles County. There are also maps that would create as many as five Latino majority districts in the county.

A map of congressional districts in LA county with shading of representative ethnic populations who vote.

Advocates say the need to keep Black communities together became clear during the 2003 flooding of Watts: In 2001, the neighborhood was divided into three different congressional and legislative districts, confusing residents as to which representatives to turn to for help, according to Common Cause, a government watchdog group. In the 2011 redistricting, the neighborhood was brought together into one district, the 44th.

In addition to that history, the need for the People’s Bloc became clear during the efforts last year to get people to fill out the census forms, said Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Coalition. The Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question on the form deterred people from filling it out, as did COVID-19. The protests after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd were another factor.

The new alliance is involved not only in the congressional map, but new city council districts being drawn by a local commission appointed by council members and the mayor.

“We wanted to make sure that the Black community was protected throughout this redistricting process, that they are included in the process by having representatives that reflect their interests and their communities,” Samuels said.

Fair representation will help Black neighborhoods have access to funding and resources, he said: “We want to make sure that when these lines are drawn that they’re drawn in a way that brings assets back to these communities, that brings investment back to these communities.”

Fresno County

Fresno County isn’t the same county it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Its total population grew from 930,450 in 2010 to more than 1 million in the last decade, and its Hispanic/Latino population grew to 53.6% from 50.3%.

Both sides in the unsuccessful effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom focused on Latino voters, who comprise California’s largest ethnic group, at 39% of the statewide population, and an increasing share of registered voters, at 28%.

With the changing population, it’s no surprise there was backlash to comments by some Fresno County supervisors, who adopt the board districts, about their intent to keep them largely the same.’We wanted to make sure that the Black community was protected throughout this redistricting process.’Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement, Community Coalition of Los Angeles

After the ACLU sent a letter to supervisors on Sept. 16 warning that they would be violating the law, two told The Fresno Bee that they would follow the law.

But activists are still wary.

“Twenty years ago they put a rubber stamp, and now they’re just fiddling around the edges,” said Pablo Rodriguez, founding executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, a group focused on civic engagement.

That can result in gerrymandering, either through “packing” — concentrating blocs of voters to limit their power to one district — or “cracking” — spreading voters out so that their influence is diluted.

Ariana Marmolejo, communications associate with the fund, said in the current proposed supervisor maps, every community of interest in the coalition is split. “When communities are divided, they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves,” Marmolejo said.

In Fresno County, that means being part of decisions on public health, public works projects and, in the bigger picture, the region’s growing inequality. Census data from 2019 showed that about 1 in every 5 residents was living in extreme poverty. And a history of exclusionary housing policies means that extreme poverty is concentrated into certain areas at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Without significant changes in supervisor districts, that cycle is likely to continue, Marmolejo said.

“Neighborhoods are going to change, kids are going to grow old. And then you’ve entirely disenfranchised a new generation of people,” Marmolejo said. “This has shaped Fresno. This is why we are where we are today.”MORE POLITICAL REPORTING‘It’s a Question of Competence’: San Francisco to Hold Recall Election of 3 School Board MembersBenicia Considers Proposal for City Hall to Fact-Check Political Ads During ElectionsAt KQED, Pelosi Vows to Pass Scaled-Down Biden Agenda

And while many of these community groups have long been organizing for representation, Marmolejo said the FAIR MAPS Act gives them support and legal protection. Another thing that helps: technology that lets groups share proposed maps and coordinate within the alliance, or even with other groups in the state.

“Even at the state level, because we lost a congressional district, everything in California is going to look different,” said Rodriguez. “There’s going to be a lot of tension … There are incredible ramifications. And we have to balance federal law with making sure we keep communities of interest whole.”

Orange and San Diego counties

While this year’s redistricting process fosters a more grassroots approach, it has its obstacles. Sometimes a single map can’t meet all the desires of every community. There are also limitations of the census data itself.

Orange County is home to “Little Arabia,” where there is a large Arab population, including immigrants and refugees. But according to census data, Arab Americans are counted as white. That means Arab American communities don’t always see the resources they need, said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council in Anaheim.

Flags fly and hang from the roof tiles of a one-story shopping center, with sun rising on a tiered cement fountain in the parking lot.
A parking plaza in the Little Arabia neighborhood of Anaheim is adorned with various flags from countries in the Middle East on Oct. 13, 2021. (Photo by Deric Mendes for CalMatters)

As in the Central Valley, the demographics in Orange County have changed over the last 20 years, and the maps should reflect that, Al-Dabbagh said.

“That is the whole point of the census and redistricting — to ensure that communities have a say in this process,” he said. “We’re not a rich, white county like people assume, or how it used to be. We’re very diverse.”

The council is one of the 16 groups that make up the People’s Redistricting Alliance, which, like the other coalitions in the state, aims to make sure redistricting isn’t driven by partisanship or solely by race, but instead leads to representation of struggles of community members.

These include people who are struggling to pay rent, or who need services from a community center. “Those are the experiences that we wanted to be able to uplift, which are the experiences that are often erased from the process,” said Jonathan Paik, executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table, which spearheaded the formation of the alliance.

In San Diego County, how residents’ different experiences should be considered in redistricting is up for debate. There has been a push for wealthier coastal cities to be grouped together, separate from inland communities, as well as a push to keep the military communities close to Camp Pendleton together.

And while the process is meant to be free of partisanship, it can still creep into public hearings.

“It makes sense to me that people would be calling to ensure that there are districts that are drawn that will ensure their interests in farming, or equestrian desires, or parks or waterways or fire concerns,” said Citizens Redistricting Commissioner Trena Turner. “All of that makes sense — that you want a district drawn where an elected official will become one that understands your issues. “

The public comments that give Turner pause, though, are ones with threads of racism or prejudice.

“For me it’s one of those eyebrow-raising comments. Does that have to do anything with the issues you want to protect? Or are you making a judgment call about the people in that area?”she said.

How will diverse voters be represented in California’s new election districts?

IN SUMMARY

Across the state, organizers are banding together to make sure new congressional, legislative and local districts lead to diverse representation. The track record of the Citizens Redistricting Commission is mixed, according to two recent studies.

Redistricting — the redrawing of maps for congressional, legislative and local seats — happens every ten years after the Census. Its goal? To make sure everyone is represented equally.

In 2008, California voters took redistricting for state offices away from the Legislature — which often drew maps to the advantage of elected officials or one political party — and gave the power to an independent commission. In 2010, voters added congressional maps to the commission’s duties. One of the cardinal rules that voters set: Consider diversity, including abiding by the Voting Rights Act.

The track record of the Citizens Redistricting Commission is mixed on that score. Statewide, Latinos make up 30% of the voting age population, but are a majority in just 19% of the 173 congressional and legislative districts, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. And that’s only a slight increase from the 15% under the old maps. Asian Americans are nearly 15% of the population, but a majority in just one district, while there is still no district where African Americans are the majority. 

Still, between 2012 and 2020, the commission’s new districts largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California, according to a study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute: The number of Latinos and Asian Americans elected to Congress doubled, and the numbers of Latino, Black and Asian American legislators also increased, compared to election results from the maps drawn by the Legislature after the 2000 census.

This round of redistricting is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest,” including ethnic enclaves, together. The 2019 FAIR MAPS Act also requires public input at every step of the process, so across California, local advocacy groups are banding together to propose maps.

But even these advocates say it’s impossible to take partisanship out of the process entirely. And this time around, the priority on diverse representation — and the fight for political power —is also being complicated by several factors:

The commission is holding a series of public hearings, including today and Friday. It plans to release preliminary maps for 52 U.S. House districts and 120 state Assembly and Senate districts by Nov. 15 and has until Dec. 27 to submit its final districts so they can be used for the June 2022 primaries. Here’s a look at some key community movements to shape the districts:  

Los Angeles County

The People’s Bloc — an alliance of 34 groups working to ensure ethnic communities in Los Angeles County aren’t divided — was born with the 2020 Census.

The bloc includes the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, founded by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass in 1990 to address substance abuse, poverty and crime in South Los Angeles. With a federal grant, Bass organized against a surplus of liquor stores and for better land-use policies, school funding and foster care. 

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles spoke during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington. D.C., on June 10, 2020. Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles spoke during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington. D.C., on June 10, 2020. Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP

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The six-term representative and former Congressional Black Caucus chairperson announced Sept. 27 that she’s running for L.A. mayor this year. That has fueled speculation that, given the need to drop a district, the 37th District she represents could be redrawn in a way that dilutes the power of Black voters. The district includes the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Pico-Robertson and South Los Angeles, among others, as well as Culver City and the unincorporated communities of View Park and Ladera Heights. 

Now, 29% of the district’s voting-age population is African American, 27% Latino and 11% Asian according to the new PPIC analysis. The neighboring 43rd District, represented by Maxine Waters, is 28% Black, and the 44th District, represented by Nanette Barragán, is 22% Black.   

During a redistricting commission meeting Wednesday, a consultant said that Black people often vote in concert with Latinos so they would be adequately represented in a coalition district. But several commissioners said based on public input, they would consider a Black majority congressional district in Los Angeles County. There are also maps that would create as many as five Latino majority districts in the county. https://calmatters-la-county-2020-cd-map.netlify.app/?initialWidth=780&childId=la-county-map&parentTitle=California%20redistricting%3A%20Community%20groups%20fight%20for%20diversity-%20CalMatters&parentUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fcalmatters.org%2Fpolitics%2F2021%2F10%2Fcalifornia-redistricting-community-groups-diversity%2F

Advocates say the need to keep Black communities together became clear during the 2003 flooding of Watts. In 2001, the neighborhood was divided into three different congressional and legislative districts, confusing residents as to which representatives to turn to for help, according to Common Cause, a government watchdog group. In the 2011 redistricting, the neighborhood was brought together into one district, the 44th. 

In addition to that history, the need for the People’s Bloc became clear during the efforts last year to get people to fill out the census forms, said Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Coalition. The Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question on the form deterred people from filling it out, as did COVID-19. The protests after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd were another factor.

The new alliance is involved not only in the congressional map, but new city council districts being drawn by a local commission appointed by council members and the mayor.

“We wanted to make sure that the Black community was protected throughout this redistricting process, that they are included in the process by having representatives that reflect their interests and their communities,” Samuels said.  

Fair representation will help Black neighborhoods have access to funding and resources, he said: “We want to make sure that when these lines are drawn that they’re drawn in a way that brings assets back to these communities, that brings investment back to these communities.” 

“We wanted to make sure that the Black community was protected throughout this redistricting process.”

KIRK SAMUELS, DIRECTOR OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, COMMUNITY COALITION OF LOS ANGELES

Fresno County

Fresno County isn’t the same county it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Its total population grew from 930,450 in 2010 to more than 1 million in the last decade, and its Hispanic or Latino population grew to 53.6% from 50.3%.

Both sides in the unsuccessful effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom focused on Latino voters, who comprise California’s largest ethnic group, at 39% of the statewide population, and an increasing share of registered voters, at 28%. 

With the changing population, it’s no surprise there was backlash to comments by some Fresno County supervisors, who adopt the board districts, about their intent to keep them largely the same.

After the ACLU sent a letter to supervisors on Sept. 16 warning them that they would be violating the law, two of them told the Fresno Bee that they would follow the law.

But activists are still wary. 

“Twenty years ago they put a rubber stamp, and now they’re just fiddling around the edges,” said Pablo Rodriguez, founding executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, a group focused on civic engagement. 

That can result in gerrymandering, either through “packing” — concentrating blocs of voters to limit their power to one district — or “cracking” — spreading voters out so that their influence is diluted. 

Ariana Marmolejo, communications associate with the education fund, said in the current proposed supervisor maps, every community of interest in the coalition is split. “When communities are divided they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves,” Marmolejo said. 

In Fresno County, that means decisions on public health, public works projects and, in the bigger picture, the region’s growing inequality. Census data from 2019 showed that about 1 in every 5 residents was living in extreme poverty.And a history of exclusionary housing policies means that extreme poverty is concentrated into certain areas at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Without significant changes in supervisor districts, that cycle is likely to continue, Marmolejo said. 

“Neighborhoods are going to change, kids are going to grow old. And then you’ve entirely disenfranchised a new generation of people,” Marmolejo said. “This has shaped Fresno. This is why we are where we are today.” 

“When communities are divided they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves.”

 ARIANA MARMOLEJO, COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE, COMMUNITIES FOR A NEW CALIFORNIA EDUCATION FUND

And while many of these community groups have long been organizing for representation, Marmolego said the FAIR MAPS Act gives them support and legal protection. Another thing that helps: technology that lets groups share proposed maps and coordinate within the alliance, or even with other groups in the state.

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“Even at the state level, because we lost a congressional district, everything in California is going to look different,” said Rodriguez. “There’s going to be a lot of tension… There are incredible ramifications. And we have to balance federal law with making sure we keep communities of interest whole.” 

Orange and San Diego counties

While this year’s redistricting process fosters a more grassroots approach, it has its obstacles. Sometimes a single map can’t meet all the desires of every community. There are also limitations of the Census data itself. 

Orange County is home to “Little Arabia,” where there is a large Arab population, including immigrants and refugees. But according to census data, Arab Americans are counted as white. That means Arab American communities don’t always see the resources they need, said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab-American Civic Council in Anaheim. 

A parking plaza in the Little Arabia neighborhood of Anaheim is adorned with various flags from countries in the Middle East on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Deric Mendes for CalMatters
A parking plaza in the Little Arabia neighborhood of Anaheim is adorned with various flags from countries in the Middle East on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Deric Mendes for CalMatters

Like the Central Valley, the demographics in Orange County have changed over the last 20 years, and the maps should reflect that, Al-Dabbagh said. 

“That is the whole point of the census and redistricting — to ensure that communities have a say in this process,” he said. “We’re not a rich, white county like people assume, or how it used to be. We’re very diverse.” 

The council is one of the 16 groups that make up the People’s Redistricting Alliance, which, like the other coalitions in the state, aims to make sure redistricting isn’t driven by partisanship or solely by race, but instead leads to representation of communities’ struggles.

Those challengesinclude people who are struggling to pay rent, or who need services from a community center. “Those are the experiences that we wanted to be able to uplift, which are the experiences that are often erased from the process,” said Jonathan Paik, executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table, which spearheaded the formation of the alliance.   

“That is the whole point of the census and redistricting — to ensure that communities have a say in this process.”

RASHAD AL-DABBAGH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ARAB-AMERICAN CIVIC COUNCIL IN ANAHEIM

In San Diego County, how residents’ different experiences should be considered in redistricting is up for debate. There has been a push for wealthiercoastal cities to be grouped together, separate from inland communities, as well as a push to keep the military communities close to Camp Pendleton together.

And while the process is meant to be free of partisanship, it can still creep into public hearings

“It makes sense to me that people would be calling to ensure that there are districts that are drawn that will ensure their interests in farming, or equestrian desires, or parks or waterways or fire concerns,” said Citizens Redistricting commissioner Trena Turner. “All of that makes sense — that you want a district drawn where an elected official will become one that understands your issues. “

The public comments that give Turner pause, though, are ones with threads of racism or prejudice. 

“For me it’s one of those eyebrow-raising comments. Does that have to do anything with the issues you want to protect? Or are you making a judgment call about the people in that area?”  

Redistricting Commission shifts to tough stage of political map making


And, yes, the people drawing political maps still want voter input. An updated online tool and six new centers across the state offer more ways for residents to have their say.

Visitors to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA walk under a canopy of lanterns celebrating Autumn Harvest Festival on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. All Californians are invited to weigh in about what matters to them as a state commission draws up new boundaries for state and federal political districts. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Visitors to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA walk under a canopy of lanterns celebrating Autumn Harvest Festival on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. All Californians are invited to weigh in about what matters to them as a state commission draws up new boundaries for state and federal political districts. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

By BROOKE STAGGS | bstaggs@scng.com | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: September 20, 2021 at 2:58 p.m. | UPDATED: September 20, 2021 at 2:59 p.m.

Today is a big day for the future of politics in California.

Sept. 21 is the due date for the final census data that the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission needs to finish drawing new, ten-year boundaries for every state and federal political district in California.

Drafts of the new political maps, which are sure to spark debate among political and community activists, are due out by the end of this year or early next year.

But the process of re-thinking political boundaries in California has been underway for months. Linda Akutagawa, chair of the Redistricting Commission, said the group has been using suggestions from the public to draw new lines and that even more input — which can be delivered live or via online sites like WeDrawTheLinesCA.org — is essential to creating fair political maps.

“The more input we get from diverse communities enables us to do a better job,” said Akutagawa, of Huntington Beach.

“We hope it will also enable people to feel more of a sense of engagement and ownership of who can represent them and how the process works.”

What is redistricting and why should I care?

Redistricting happens once a decade, in every state, after the federal government publishes updated census information. The primary goal is to make sure everyone has equal representation and that political boundaries accurately reflect all voting groups.

The new lines matter. If a boundary shifts one block in either direction, it can mean residents in that neighborhood instantly get new representatives in Congress and in Sacramento.

In Southern California, for example, it’s already known that House districts represented by Katie Porter, D-Irvine, and Ken Calvert, R-Corona, are overpopulated when compared with neighboring districts. As a result, both seats will need to shrink, potentially changing the constituencies that elected progressive Porter and conservative Calvert.

For decades, California legislators created new political maps behind closed doors — a process that’s still the norm in most states. That practice can lead to partisan gerrymandering, with incumbent politicians drawing districts that favor themselves and their parties.

In 2010, California switched to a Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is made up of 14 non politicians from around the state, to draw new lines for the House of Representatives, both legislative branches of Sacramento, and the State Board of Equalization.

This year’s commission includes five Republicans, five Democrats and four people who are registered as No Party Preference. In addition to Akutagawa, who runs a group called Leadership Education for Asian Pacific, other locals on the commission include J. Ray Kennedy, an international elections expert from Morongo Valley, Antonio Le Mons, who helps run Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles, Sara Sadhwani, a political science professor at Pomona College, Derric Taylor, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Angela Vazquez, of Los Angeles, who helps lead The Children’s Partnership.

Under state law, commissioners can’t consider partisan data when drawing new district lines. Districts must be contiguous and compact. And so-called “communities of interest” — such as minority groups or residents with critical common concerns — must be kept together whenever possible to avoid diluting their voices by spreading them between multiple districts.

What work has been done on redistricting so far?

In early 2021, the commission started holding a series of public meetings to help people understand how the process works and how they can get involved — and to get voter input on what new districts should look like.

In addition to the public meetings, feedback also came from voters using a new online tool, DrawMyCACommunity.org, that lets them sketch out their ideal political districts and make a case for why the state should use their idea. That site is still active. Recently, Akutagawa said, the site was updated to let everyone see what other Californians have suggested in terms of district boundaries.

This month, the commission also opened Redistricting Access Centers in six cities: San Bernardino, Long Beach, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland and Fresno. At each center, a worker is ready to help residents learn more about the process and to guide them if they want to offer input. (Appointments are needed and masks are required, with more information at statewidedatabase.org/redistricting_access_centers.)

The commission’s first of many tough decisions has centered on how to count people currently in state and federal prisons in California — some 210,536 people as of the 2020 census.

The federal count tracks prisoners based on where they’re incarcerated, while state law now calls for prisoners to be counted based on the city where they lived at the time of their arrest. Akutagawa said the state rule is aimed at avoiding artificially inflating representation for communities that happen to have prisons in their boundaries.

The commission was able to make adjustments for state prisoners. But Akutagawa said they weren’t able to get the data they needed in time to make that change for federal prisoners. So, in August, a split commission voted to exclude all federal prisoners from counting toward a congressional district’s population.

What’s next? And how can residents get involved?

That wrangling over prison populations slowed down delivery of California’s final census data. Once the commission gets final numbers, Akutagawa said they can really start the hard work of using the data to draw new district lines.

While much of the process is guided by state and federal law, Akutagawa acknowledged the citizen commission is still figuring out the best approach to sort through the data.

Regarding current district lines, Akutagawa said the commission is determined to draw maps with an open mind rather than just trying to make small adjustments to what already exists.

“I think we’re tying not to box ourselves in just yet,” she said. “To me, I think this is the part where we just want to remain open to all possibilities.”

What type of feedback is the commission getting?

Redistricting always is a fraught process, since new lines can make life tougher for incumbents and, ultimately, shift the balance of power between political parties in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.

The process is even more complicated this year because, for the first time in its history, California’s population growth has slowed to the point that we’re slated to lose a congressional seat.

So far, Akutagawa said public redistricting meetings have been cordial, even though some residents have asked for contradictory decisions. Akutagawa expects conversations, both from the public and among the 14 commissioners, to get tougher as real lines come into play in the coming weeks.

The most difficult thing, she said, is wanting to honor everybody’s requests and make districts as fair as possible, even though she knows there’s no way they can make everyone happy.

 ‘But even little nuances can sometimes make a big difference,” she said. “So, the more we can get input from people about that, the better our maps will be.”

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Will Politicians Use Redistricting for Their Own Re-Elections?

Will Orange County’s Top Politicians Use Redistricting to Protect Their Own Re-Elections?

The Orange County Board of Supervisors pose for a photo at a veterans cemetery media event on July 1, 2021. From left: Supervisor Andrew Do, Katrina Foley, Supervisor Doug Chaffee, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, and Supervisor Don Wagner. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

As Orange County’s powerful county supervisors gear up to redraw their own election districts, questions are mounting about whether they will protect their own re-elections by jettisoning parts of their district that didn’t vote for them, and adding in areas that are more favorable at the ballot box.

Areas getting particular attention among county insiders are whether supervisors will move the heavily Democratic communities of Santa Ana, UC Irvine and Laguna Beach out of Republican supervisors’ districts and into nearby districts represented by the board’s two Democratic supervisors.

Four of the five county supervisors didn’t return phone messages for comment on this story.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who did pick up the phone, said he wasn’t aware of any such plans, adding he doesn’t expect the districts to change much.

“I haven’t heard anything, and I’m not sure what I would give up to get. I have no idea what would make my district safer, for me,” Chaffee said.

“And I don’t know how anyone can figure it out at this point without the [new U.S. Census] data yet being released. I don’t really expect too much change,” he added.

Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog who has been observing supervisors since the 1950s, is skeptical.

In order for redistricting to help residents, as opposed to politicians, Grindle says an independent commission needs to do the work of redrawing election boundaries for offices – not the Board of Supervisors. 

“The only appropriate and ethical thing for the Board to do is to appoint an independent commission to come up with a redistricting map,’ ” said Grindle, who was a lead author on the county’s 1978 campaign finance limits law as well as the 2016 county Ethics Commission.

“The Board needs to stay completely divorced from this process in order to avoid accusations of ‘feathering their own nest.’ ”

Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog who has been observing supervisors since the 1950s

Case in point, she says, is the recent action by three supervisors to put a measure on the ballot that resets and extends their own term limits, using ballot language that was widely seen as deceptive and self-serving by observers from across the political spectrum.

The ballot language supported by Chaffee and supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do simply called the measure a “lifetime ban after three terms.”

Conservative and liberal residents – who waited 7 hours to speak when the item was brought up at the end of the supervisor’s agenda – called the measure’s language “sneaky” and a misleading effort by supervisors to extend their own power.

The only public comments supporting the measure were from the three supervisors who voted to put it on the ballot.

A few days later, state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom killed the measure when they approved a new state law banning local ballot measures from the upcoming governor recall election.

Supervisors can try again next year.

“If their term limit proposal had been written so as not to allow some of the current supervisors to serve [three] more terms, they would probably have had support from many of us because it was a lifetime ban,” Grindle said.

‘Buckle Up’

Jon Fleischman, an OC-based conservative activist who formerly served as executive director of the California Republican Party, noted that redistricting is inherently political.

“I think that everyone should have a realistic expectation that redistricting is a fundamentally political process,” said Fleischman, who publishes the Flash Report.

“This is the drawing of political boundaries, so in addition to having community groups of interest, you’re going to have political groups of interest all lobbying the Board of Supervisors,” he added.

“Buckle up, it’s going to be an interesting ride.”

OC’s Lack of Outreach So Far Stands in Contrast With Other Governments

While other nearby local governments have been gathering public input for months on what their new district maps should look like, Orange County has not.

The state commission in charge of redrawing legislative and Congressional seats also has been conducting dozens of Zoom outreach meetings.

OC officials say they plan to start public outreach in the coming weeks, through a series of meetings required by state law.

Redistricting can have huge implications for democratic representation.

“In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose the representatives. The representatives are not supposed to choose the voters,” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University, recently told Voice of OC.

“[When] you have the public officials drawing the districts, they get the ability to ensure their own re-election. And that’s why we have to have a system for choosing public officials that is above reproach.”

What Happened Last Time

The last time OC supervisors redrew the boundaries, they handed off the process to their own political aides and focused on protecting their own seats.

“Continuity of representation” was the way supervisors put it in their goals for redistricting a decade ago.

During the 2011 redistricting, Latino and Vietnamese resident groups criticized the county for not doing much of its redistricting work in public.

Voice of OC reported at the time that at their few public meetings, committee members heard public concerns and then, with little discussion, voted for the maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.

The final map approved in 2011 split Orange County’s sizable Latino community into two districts.

And it redrew the supervisors’ district boundaries in a way that a local Republican Party leader said guaranteed GOP victories in all five seats.

The next few years did go on to yield solid wins for the GOP, with Republican candidates winning all county supervisor elections in the seven years after the maps were redrawn.

Can a Commission Truly be Independent?

Supervisor Chaffee, one of two Democrats on the board traditionally dominated by the GOP,  questioned how Grindle’s proposal of an “independent” redistricting commission – such as the one California voters put in place for state and federal districts – could actually be independent.

“How would that even be composed? Would it not be a political body in the first place?” Chaffee asked.

“Who’s choosing it, how does that happen? Do you select out of a hat, put all of the judge’s names…how would you get a truly independent body, that’s the first question. If it’s truly independent and they’re smart people, fine.”

When it comes to redrawing state and federal districts, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is required to have five Republicans, five Democrats, and four members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Much of the selection involves random drawing of names among applications who are deemed qualified by state auditors.

The state commission is prohibited from taking partisan considerations into account, and instead must prioritize keeping similar communities together when redrawing districts.

For reshaping the OC supervisor district lines, the incumbent supervisors will themselves be deciding how the maps will be redrawn – and which voters get moved from one district to another.

Will Politics Play a Role?

Carolyn Cavecche, a former mayor of Orange who now serves as president of the OC Taxpayers’ Association, said her group will be keeping a close eye.

“We’re going to be watching to see if it looks like any deals are being made amongst the supervisors…to move districts even more Republican or more Democrat,” she told Voice of OC.

“I think especially among District 1 and District 2, it will be interesting to see how those two specific districts’ [maps] end up in the next election cycle.”

Chaffee, who’s running for re-election next year, says he works hard to not take politics into account when he’s making decisions.

“I try to keep politics out of everything,” he said.

Yet Grindle says she’s seen a clear pattern over the decades she’s watched supervisors:

“Once they get a taste of that power and influence, it’s all about getting re-elected.”

Mike Moodian, a public policy researcher at Chapman University, said it’s typically in politicians’ nature to hold on to their influence.

“Generally,” he said, “elected officials do whatever they can do to maintain power.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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“Help O.C.’s ethnic and beach communities boost political power”

Locals tell Redistricting Commission: Help O.C.’s ethnic and beach communities boost political power

The relatively small group of residents who spoke during the first California Citizens Redistricting Commission to be held in Orange County in nearly a decade offered a common suggestion:

Carve out political districts that strengthen the power of the county’s distinct ethnic communities, and then do the same for the county’s beach communities.

But not all of the more than 40 residents who made comments during the online meeting Thursday, July 8, agreed on how those communities should be represented. And their differences highlighted the complexity of the political dilemmas facing the citizen panel, which, over the next few months, will redraw state and federal legislative districts in ways that will shape power in Sacramento and Washington D.C. over the next decade.

“I don’t envy your decision-making in terms of where the lines are drawn on the edges of some of these cities,” Tammy Tran, 40, of Westminster told the commission as she requested more recognition for sprawling Little Saigon.

Once a decade, after the federal government publishes updated census information, California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission must, by law, redraw boundaries for state and federal political districts. Those boundaries will determine the specific voters who will send people to the U.S. House of Representatives, the California State Senate and Assembly, and the State Board of Equalization.

In addition to evenly distributing voters and following other guidelines, the citizen commission also must learn about so-called “communities of interest” across the state and, whenever possible, keep those communities together as they sketch out new districts.

But the definition of communities of interest, and the boundaries of those communities, is far from black and white. That’s where meetings — like the one held Thursday for Orange County, and about 35 similar meetings slated to be held statewide through September — come into play.

“We need the neighborhood and community of interest information from you,” Linda Akutagawa, a member of the state redistricting commission from Huntington Beach, told residents who tuned in to Thursday’s virtual meeting.

Roughly a third of the people who spoke during the meeting asked about political unification of Little Saigon, which is is now spread between three Congressional districts. The not-so-little community of about 200,000 — the largest concentrated Vietnamese population outside Vietnam — is centered in Westminster and Garden Grove but also includes portions of Fountain Valley, Stanton, Midway City and west Santa Ana.

“Instead of dividing those into three congressional districts, please do it as two so at least we have a stronger voice in Congress,” said Hang Hopper of Fountain Valley.

A similar request came from Caroline Nguyen, a program assistant with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. Her grassroots group participated in Thursday’s meeting as one of 15 partners in the People’s Redistricting Alliance, launched in February by the progressive Orange County Civic Engagement Table. Multiple members of the group spoke about requests to keep O.C.’s historically disadvantaged communities together, with some providing the commission with written testimony supporting 18 communities of interest, including Asian American, Latino and LGBTQ populations.

“I ask this commission to do a better job than the 2011 commission in how it treats the Hispanic community,” said Mario Rodriguez, a founding member of Hispanic 100, an organization that mentors Hispanic adults in Orange County.

Before the 2011 round of redistricting, for example, Rodriguez said Assembly District 69 included a solid Hispanic community. But Rodriguez and others said lines drawn that year divided the county’s Hispanic voice and diluted the group’s power by carving heavily Latino portions of Tustin and Orange.

Another speaker asked the commission to protect Latino voices by keeping Anaheim Hills in a separate district from other parts of Anaheim. Even though the communities reside in the same city, the demographics in the two communities are distinct, and want different things from lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington. One speaker recalled an era in the not-so-distant past when Anaheim’s City Council was dominated by people from the wealthier foothill area, even as most of the city’s population was less diverse, less advantaged and lived in the “flatlands.”

There was some disagreement over whether all of Orange County’s beach communities should be in a single Congressional district, or if they should remain split between two districts. For now, the northern coastal cities from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel are in CA-48 and represented by Republican Michelle Steel. But the county’s southern coastal cities are combined with cities in north San Diego County in CA-49, and they are represented by Democrat Mike Levin.

Former Seal Beach Mayor Ellery Deaton asked the commission to put all of the coastal communities into a single district, arguing it will give them a stronger voice to tackle unifying issues such as beach erosion, flood control and tourism.

“If we don’t have a representative who is focused on protecting our beaches, but instead is split among many interests, the resulting dilution to the communities of interest — all of them, whether inland or at the beach — results in not being properly served,” Deaton said.

Peter “PT” Townend, a former world professional surfing champion who advocates for Huntington Beach tourism and wetlands, echoed that request. With the global surfing industry centered in multiple O.C. cities, Townend said it makes sense to him that they have a single representative fighting for their common causes.

“The more people who care about an issue, the greater likelihood that an elected official will respond in a timely manner,” said Jake Schwartzberg, a high school math teacher from San Clemente who also favors clustering the beach communities.

But Livia Beaudin, an environmental attorney based in Oceanside, asked the commission to keep southern Orange County’s beach communities grouped with northern San Diego County’s beach cities, as they now are in CA-49. Beaudin said the areas have distinct shared interests, such as bluff erosion, water quality, planned desalination plants and waste removal at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She urged that the communities remain in a single congressional district “despite the county border.”

Another resident who spoke in favor of keeping a Congressional district intact even though it crosses counties lines was Susan Pearlson of Brea. She lives in CA-39, which includes portions of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and is represented by Republican Young Kim. While the district’s boundaries might seem nonsensical to some, Pearlson said the areas are strongly united around concerns over the traffic bottleneck at the 57 and 60 freeways, as well as fire danger from the nearby hills, and a shared desire to preserve the open space between them.

The meeting, as was the case with the seven other redistricting hearings already held in other parts of the state, was conducted virtually. Commission spokesman Fredy Ceja said the group hopes to hold hybrid meetings — with people able to appear virtually or in person — as soon as next month.

Attendance at the meetings started out slow, with some leaders fearing burnout from the pandemic and political tension. But Ceja said the commission’s outreach effort around the state is boosting participation, with more people showing up at each meeting.

In addition to testimony heard at hearings, the commission will collect community of interest data into at least mid-September or whenever they finally get data from the Census Bureau. Regular deadlines have been delayed several times due to COVID-19. After that, the commission will actually start drawing new district lines and holding community input meetings on their proposals.

In the meantime, people who want to weigh in on redistricting still have opportunities to be heard. More meetings are scheduled in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Also, people can weigh in via email by using a new online tool — DrawMyCACommunity.org — which lets them sketch out their ideal political districts and make a case for why the state should follow their suggestion.

Residents also can submit testimony by phone, email or letter, with more information at wedrawthelinesca.org/public_comment.

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Press Release

Release: Multiracial group speaks on housing, healthcare

Multiracial group of Orange County residents speak on housing, healthcare at redistricting hearing

Orange County residents dialed in to the first online-only hearing of California’s independent redistricting commission for the region on July 8. Many callers were Latino and Asian residents speaking out on the region’s housing and health crisis.