The Board of Supervisors told its staff to begin redrawing supervisory districts in a way that includes considerable public input.
The county has five districts. Every 10 years, after the U.S. census, it redraws the boundaries to ensure they have the same number of voters.
The same effort is taking place at the state level, where a new voter-created commission is redefining congressional, state Senate and Assembly, and state Board of Equalization districts.
Locally, the board could have appointed an independent citizens’ committee, but County Administrator Jim Grant noted that the county has people who worked on the realignment in 2001.
“We’re fortunate to have an experienced staff,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson during the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday. Going with current employees will be “simpler and less expensive,” he said.
Redistricting will involve the Administrative Office, as well as the Clerk-Recorder, Planning and Building Department, County Counsel and the Public Works Department. Supervisors budgeted $13,000 to carry out the task.
Grant said he plans at least four public workshops and hearings before the board, and will launch a website that will invite citizen involvement.
Under the state Elections Code, the county must complete a redistricting plan by Nov. 1. The new boundaries will be in place for next year’s elections, when the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts have elections.
Redrawing district lines for legislators has become controversial at the state and national levels.
Democrats and Republicans in California have redrawn lines so egregiously — scratching each other’s backs by creating “safe” districts for both parties — that it led to the creation of the new state commission, whose members have been carefully selected in an exhaustive process designed to keep politics at bay.
Redistricting has not happened with such volatility at the county level. The last mini-controversy that arose in San Luis Obispo County happened 10 years ago, when it appeared for a time that freshman Supervisor Katcho Achadjian would be placed in a different district from the South County’s 4th District that he represented. Achadjian lived in San Luis Obispo.
However, when the 2001 redistricting was completed, Achadjian remained in the 4th District. He went on to serve three terms as supervisor and now is in the state Assembly.
One possible area of disagreement this year could come from the citizens of San Luis Obispo, who fall under four of the five districts. Some city residents believe being segmented dilutes their voice at the county level.
In redrawing districts, the county has some general guidelines. The districts must be equal numerically, and those redrawing the lines must consider topography, geography, contiguousness of territory and “community of interests.”
That latter phrase is open to interpretation, and the county is going to have to decide whether it means economic, ethnic or some other “community of interest.”
One thing it does not include is political parties. Leslie Brown of the Administrative Office suggested that the board “avoid drawing districts with odd shapes in order to incorporate one political party, one interest group or racial/ethnic group.”
This latter practice is known as gerrymandering, named after Elbridge Gerry, a founding father, early governor of Massachusetts, and vice president under James Madison. Gerry was involved in carving up a district that ended up looking like a salamander, leading to his name being historically associated with a corrupt political practice.