Central Coast residents share their goals for redistricting

Dozens of citizens from the Central Coast on Wednesday told a state commission that is redrawing legislative and congressional district lines that they do not want the new boundaries to slice up their counties and they want illogical boundaries fixed.

More than 60 people spoke to the 14-member commission, which is touring the state to seek citizen input in its task of redrawing boundaries for state Senate, state Assembly, Congress and state Board of Equalization.

Under the Constitution, states must redraw the lines every 10 years. This year, for the first time, a Citizens Redistricting Commission rather than the Legislature is handling the task. Voters, disgusted with the Legislature’s practice of redrawing lines to protect their own incumbencies, approved ballot measures in 2008 and 2010 to create the commission.

Many speakers asked that San Luis Obispo County not be divided. If it is divided, speakers said, it should be at the Cuesta Grade.

“We’re different from down below” the Cuesta Grade, an Atascadero man said.

Others said that it would make sense to keep Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo counties together, because they share an economic base of agriculture.

Yet others decried current boundaries.

For example, Ernie Miller, who lives just west of San Luis Obispo, said he is in the 22nd Congressional District, which stretches to the high desert east of Mojave and is known as “the Bakersfield District.”

Some noted that the 15th state Senate District sprawls across five counties.

Commissioners are hindered by locked-in numbers. Under the law, each of the 40 new Senate districts must hold 931,439 residents, and that can’t happen without combining counties.

Similarly, each of the 80 state Assembly districts must include 465,674 people. Neither San Luis Obispo County nor Santa Barbara County has that many people.

The same dynamic pertains up and down the state, creating a conundrum for the commission.

“We’re going to have to split counties,” Commissioner Cynthia Dai said. “We don’t want to.”

A large part of the discussion centered on commissioners getting a sense of what the local “community of interest” is. The phrase is a major component in redrawing lines, and because it is nebulous, commissioners have been seeking to fine-tune the definition.

Speakers from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties told the commission that agriculture and tourism unite them. Another speaker added that there is a sizeable number of farm and service workers in the county. Still others cited the high number of military personnel and retirees present.

But under commission guidelines, “community of interest” means more than economic overlap. It also encompasses geography, as well as shared living standards, similar work opportunities, culture, language and common goals, as well as other factors.

The second half of the hearing was largely taken up with redistricting issues in the Port Hueneme-Oxnard area. Dozens of residents asked that their district not be carved up, and some expressed fear that they would be moved into legislative and congressional districts that are based in Los Angeles.

The stakes of redistricting are high, several speakers said — it will decide whether citizens of the world’s most high-powered democracy will have people in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., representing their interests.

The group’s first round of draft maps will be released in June. Final district maps must be approved by the commission by Aug. 15.