Orphans, Fingers, and Curls. Oh My.

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KQED/John Myers

For those who haven't been closely following the months long deliberations of California's first independently drawn political maps, and who will only tune in when the draft maps are released this Friday, prepare to be disappointed. Maybe only a little bit. Maybe a lot.

That's because, try as they might, the 14 men and women picked to oversee the redistricting process can't please everyone.

"We're trying to share the pain," said Commissioner Michelle DiGuilio in comments after a long and passionate plea from residents of Fremont, who trekked up to Sacramento to complain about the possibility that they will be split into a congressional district apart from the cities of Newark and Union City.

"Our relationships are deep," said Raj Salwan, a planning commissioner in Fremont when testifying today about the three cities in question, often called the Tri-Cities.

Mind you, the protest wasn't over the actual draft map -- not to come out for another 72 hours -- but rather over some of the "visualizations" of Bay Area communities recently presented to the commission by the consultants hired to draw the maps.

The grumbling will no doubt get louder and larger come next week. In many instances, the commission is finding that even well-defined communities must sometimes be sliced up to meet the criteria which trump all others: equal population (in congressional districts, to the person) and the federal Voting Rights Act and its protection of minority voting rights.

The driving imperative of the Voting Rights Act -- both the impact on four California counties and its overall interest in 'majority-minority' districts -- has been obvious to many observers of the process to date. On Tuesday, it was hammered home by two of the authors of the original redistricting initiative, Proposition 11, in a letter to the commission.

"Compliance with the Voting Rights Act," wrote Prop 11 proponents Kathay Feng and Steven Reyes, "must be considered before contiguity, and respect for geographic integrity of any city, county, city and county, local neighborhood, or local community of interest."

The letter was prompted by concerns from the Prop 11 proponents that the commission may be getting the wrong legal advice. In a more general sense, advice flies back and forth at every single commission meeting. For weeks, commissioners have asked the map drawers to move a line left or right, up or down, to see what impact it has. Some lament part of a city that's "orphaned" into another legislative or congressional district from the rest of the same city. Others talk about the shape of districts -- the "Bakersfield Curl" or the "Stanislaus Finger" -- which will no doubt be a simple (probably overly simple) way by which some in the public will evaluate the draft maps.

Others, like Commissioner Cynthia Dai, openly muse on the cost of certain decisions. On Tuesday, Dai lamented that some communities were on the verge of being "badly split, multiple times" because the commission was trying to protect other communities "at all costs."

It's important to note that Friday's draft maps will be just that -- drafts. The final maps are due on August 15, thus leaving the citizen commissioners a lot of time to rethink some of their early decisions. What we will not get from them this week, but others will no doubt quickly calculate, is the partisan impact of the 120 new legislative and 53 new congressional districts; the process has been done only using Census data of ethnicity and voting age, and not with an eye toward Democratic or Republican advantage.

And while the commission has been a pretty happy bunch so far, we may soon start to see where the dividing lines lie among their own ranks. For starters, commission staff confirms that the draft maps will be approved by the same rigorous consensus vote that Prop 11 requires for the final maps to be certified: 4 of the 5 Dems, 4 of the 5 Reeps, and 3 of the 5 independents on the commission.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • RT

    California has 58 Counties. Why cannot we just draw districts based on county boundaries and population? While you may have several small counties in one regional district, at least using the county boundaries would give the the entire population of county a united voice instead of cutting the county into pieces.

  • hello

    @RT: Districts have to have roughly equal populations. That means that a district in Los Angeles County has to have roughly the same number of people as a district in Shasta County. If you make counties your districts you violate that.

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    I think that vision might not capture the way California’s population is distributed. Several counties would be split into multiple parts. Los Angeles County alone is almost 10 million people, and the commission’s maps will make each congressional district almost 703,000 people. And as I wrote, there’s also the Voting Rights Act and, in particular, mandates about minority voting rights in Kern, Merced, Monterey, and San Joaquin counties… mandates that a “county boundaries” map might not be able to honor.

  • http://wattsupwiththat.com Mogumbo Gono

    This is yet another failure of the Schwarzenegger Administration; they did not write the initiative correctly.

    I am a “minority.” So are Caucasians. As Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

    But this initiative REQUIRES discriminating on the basis of race. Racial politics is destroying America – is there any doubt? The initiative should have been written based strictly on population, as the Constitution requires. Instead, it cements racial politics further into the law, stirring up hatred in the process.

    The end result of decades of racial preferances will be race-based violence. We are already seeing the beginning of it in Chicago. It will only get worse, as those who are constantly told they are entitled to the property and the taxes of others become violent when they believe they have not got their share. And the blame must be placed at the feet of the Left, who fan the flames of racial politics and redistribution of the earnings of others.

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    Mogumbo: That’s not actually what’s going on. The deliberations over race & ethnicity are mandated by the federal government of all redistricting efforts nationwide. As I wrote in my story, minority communities and political representation are part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

    Prop 11 — which was not, by the way, written by the former Guv but by outside groups like Common Cause — simply says that the citizens commission must follow federal law on the issue of race.

  • surfon

    what happens if one block of the group will not support the map? is there a plan B if consensus is not attained. I fear that a small group of the commissioners could with hold votes to meet more political concerns.

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    Surfon: Prop 11 is explicit in how the commission must vote to approve the maps, which is what I lay out in the final paragraph. If the commission can’t agree according to that voting system, then the map drawing goes to the California Supreme Court. In the 1980 and 1990, the redistricting process ended up in the courts.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/briancrcobserve/ brian lawson


    Let me make a couple of friendly corrections. The vote to approve a map must be 9 or more commissioners (at least 3 Dem, 3 Rep and 3 from neither party — see the email I sent you for the Cite to the constitution).

    Minor point — the courts drew the maps in 1990 and 1970 (not 1980).

    — Brian

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    Brian, good catch on both points. Yes, 3/5 of the partisan members and 3/4 of the independent commissioners must ratify final maps. And yes, I blew the court reference… somehow getting my head twisted on the 1970 fracas vs. the 1980 maps/referendum.