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Local California leaders are slowly but surely losing their deciding power, study shows

Los Angeles, California – Voters are attempting to remove redistricting authority from local governments through legislation and legal action. The counties of Fresno, Kern, and Riverside will need independent commissions as a result of legislation passed by the governor.

In November, voters will use the new maps created by California’s independent redistricting committee to elect state lawmakers and U.S. representatives. These maps have gotten generally positive evaluations.

Voters who feel disenfranchised want similar commissions to create their local districts, and they have petitioned the legislature to make this happen.

Governor Gavin Newsom stated on September 18 that he has signed three legislation mandating independent redistricting commissions in Fresno, Kern, and Riverside counties, respectively. Beginning after the 2030 Census, these panels will work on districts for the boards of supervisors in these counties.

“I believe people are now aware of how politicians have used party boundaries to maintain power. According to Lori Pesante, director of civic engagement for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which supported Assembly Bill 2030 for the Fresno County citizens commission, “I believe that people want to see that power in the hands of the people.”

She continued, “Redistricting is very much on the minds of the people, therefore I hope the conditions are now favorable for the governor to sign.”

While Newsom vetoed a bill in 2019 that would have required all 21 counties with populations of at least 400,000 to establish independent commissions to draw county supervisor districts, former governor Jerry Brown signed two bills in 2016 and 2017 to establish such commissions only in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Current legislation allows counties to utilize advisory or fully independent commissions, but does not necessitate them.

The state budget for 2022-23 allocates $1,000,000 to the Riverside Citizens Redistricting Commission.

“This failure by a majority of the Board of Supervisors to preserve the voting rights of our Latino population demonstrates the necessity for an independent citizens redistricting commission to establish fair maps for Riverside County,” said Corona Democrat Sabrina Cervantes in a statement. She is the author of AB 1307, which established the Riverside commission, and vice chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

Advocates in Riverside County are not waiting for a future commission to establish more equitable districts. They are filing a lawsuit to invalidate the districts drawn by the board of supervisors last year, arguing that the maps disenfranchise Latino voters by dividing them throughout districts.

Michael Gomez Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United, a coalition that strives to elect diverse candidates in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, stated, “What we saw in Riverside County was nothing but political self-preservation by the county supervisors.” It has nothing to do with the communities they claim to serve and represent fairly.

Representative government?

Riverside County is exemplary of the population fluctuations that can occur from decade to decade, and even very rapidly. During the epidemic, from July 2020 to July 2021, Riverside County acquired 36,000 residents, making it the third fastest-growing county in the United States. Prior to that, the county had 10% growth, with two communities nearly doubling in size between 2010 and 2020.

It makes sense that the Inland Empire lead the nation in job growth following the Great Recession. It is the location of warehouses for retail giants including Amazon, Walmart, and Target. Additionally, housing is more affordable than in the remainder of Southern California.

The demographics of Riverside County have also changed, with rises in the Latino and Asian populations and decreases in the white population.

“What we saw happen in Riverside County was pure political self-preservation by the county supervisors.”

Michael Gomez Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United

Therefore, organizations such as Inland Empire United and the UCLA Voting Rights Project informed supervisors that the proposed maps would disenfranchise Latino voters. According to the plaintiffs in the case, their suggestions on a plan with two Latino-majority districts instead of one was disregarded.

“For months, the residents of Riverside insisted that the county do the right thing and adopt maps that would result in equitable and fair representation. Instead than listening to the community, the supervisors selected maps that would facilitate their reelection, Daly said in a June statement. “The supervisors’ redistricting plan is a textbook example of politicians prioritizing their own interests over those of the public.”

The plaintiffs are requesting that the board reject the present map and replace it with one that maintains the integrity of communities of interest.

Similar objections inspired the creation of a Fresno County commission.

According to critics, supervisors authorized a map that differed little from the version from 1991, despite the increased Latino population.

Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Democrat from Fresno, said in a statement when he presented AB 2030, “Our county is transforming, and Latinos are now the majority of the population.” “We can no longer tolerate a process in which elected officials pay lip service to complying with redistricting standards, disregard public input, and then adopt a plan that promotes their own interests. This modification is long overdue.”

However, both the county and the California State Association of Counties oppose the bill establishing the Fresno commission.

Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Democrat from Bakersfield who is currently a candidate for Congress, filed AB 2494 in Kern County, claiming that it would save taxpayer money and prevent future litigation against the county. In a lawsuit filed in 2016, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund claimed that the 2011 redistricting plan separated the Latino community into two districts, none of which had enough Latino votes to elect a candidate of their choosing.

The board of supervisors is opposed to the Kern commission measure.

Each of the three laws establishes criteria for commission members comparable to those of the state commission. Those who have run for or been elected to public office during the preceding 10 years are unable to serve.

California Common Cause, which spearheaded the drive for a statewide independent redistricting commission, stated that it supports the goals of the three legislation but would like to see the language regarding the partisan composition modified.

The legislation, which are fashioned after those adopted for the counties of Los Angeles and San Diego, require the 14-member commissions to represent the party composition of each county. Common Cause supports either a commission with five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members with no political affiliation, similar to the state commission, or one that eliminates partisanship from the application process entirely.

Alesandra Lozano, program manager for California Common Cause’s Voting Rights & Redistricting division, stated, “We want to underscore that we are extremely supportive, and that any alternative is preferable to the present incumbent-driven process.” “We recommended demanding a supermajority of final approval for the maps in the case that the revisions were not adopted and implemented, in order to ensure that the authorized maps have broad support.”

The outlook for municipal redistricting

Using data from the 2020 Census, a dozen new municipal and county independent commissioners developed maps for voters to use from 2022 through 2030 over the past year. According to Common Cause, four counties have independent commissions, 24 counties have advisory commissions, and 30 counties have no commission.

“County-level redistricting appears to garner less attention than state- or city-level redistricting,” Sietse Goffard, senior program coordinator for the voting rights team of the Asian Law Caucus, wrote in an email.

According to leaders from the Asian Law Caucus and the League of Women Voters of California, the public has been more involved in the last few of redistrictings following the decennial Census.

Advocates assert that maps developed by independent commissions do not guarantee a flawless redistricting process, but because commissions follow set rules, the outcomes are often superior to those produced by elected politicians.

Chris Carson, director of redistricting for the League of Women Voters of California, stated that the redrawing of maps in Los Angeles County by an independent commission was an improvement over past mapping efforts. She stated that when the commission was constituted by the board of supervisors, it was evident that the appointees were operating in the interests of the supervisors.

According to the panel’s final report, the independent commission formed one new majority Latino district and was able to maintain most of the city’s historically Black community together, as well as grouping coastal districts and places primarily defined by the entertainment industry.

Christian Grose, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southern California, suggested that, in the absence of a statewide requirement, a county-by-county approach could be a smart way to test the waters of mandating independent commissions in places where they could have a significant impact, such as Kern County.

“It may be simpler to obtain support when it’s limited to a specific geographic area,” he said.

Grose stated that the test cases could lead not just to more legislation mandating independent redistricting, but also to some counties deciding to do so on their own.

The California Common Cause, which observed more than 60 redistrictings over the past year, is still analyzing its data to establish its legislative recommendations for the following year.

“From this last election cycle, we now have over a year’s worth of observational data, and we’ve concluded that independent redistricting commissions lead to better outcomes for voters than any of the alternatives,” said Lozano.

For the record: This story was updated to correct that Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bills that created independent redistricting commissions for Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

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