Editorial: County needs new lines that don’t carve up SLO

We recognize that it’s not the sexiest of subjects, but redrawing lines for the county’s five supervisory districts ranks as one of the most important tasks of the coming year.

Boundary lines can have a huge effect on the makeup of the board and on the way the county does — or does not — develop. For example, including a chunk of historically liberal, slow-growth San Luis Obispo in a more conservative North or South County district could be enough to tip the scales in a close election.

On the flip side, divvying up San Luis Obispo voters among different districts could dilute their influence.

That was a big concern when lines were last redrawn in 2001. At the time, The Tribune Editorial Board railed against the “Balkanization” of the city, which wound up divided among four districts.

“This situation doesn’t promote effective county representation for the residents of San Luis Obispo. Do you remember the last time Peg Pinard, Shirley Bianchi, Mike Ryan or Katcho Achadjian fought passionately for an issue affecting San Luis?” we asked at the time, referring to the county supervisors who then represented portions of the city and surrounding areas.

We haven’t changed our opinion.

Dividing the city among four districts flies in the face of the redistricting guidelines, which specify that those redrawing the lines may consider geography, cohesiveness, continuity and —here’s a big one — community of interests.

On top of that, it’s ridiculously confusing. In informal surveys we’ve done, many San Luis Obispo residents didn’t even know who their supervisor is — understandable given the circumstances.

Interestingly, in 2001 even the Board of Supervisors seemed to recognize that it was an odd situation that needed to be corrected at some point.

“Board members said they hope the 2010 redistricting will result in the city of San Luis Obispo being carved into only two supervisory districts,” a Tribune reporter wrote at the time.

So why did the four-way split even happen?

In part, it occurred so that Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, who lives in San Luis Obispo, could retain his seat. We now have a District 4 that is predominantly South County, but contains a sliver of San Luis Obispo where Katcho lives.

There was even a tongue-in-cheek name for it: Katcho-mandering.

At the time, there was no huge hue-and-cry from the general public, but times have changed.

The public has little patience with these machinations. That’s why it voted to take the power to redraw state Senate, Assembly and congressional district lines away from the Legislature and place it in the hands of an independent commission.

That option doesn’t exist on the county level; the final decision on redistricting rests with the Board of Supervisors, which has until Nov. 1, 2011, to act. If the public is unhappy with the board’s decision, it can appeal to the Superior Court.

To avoid that, we urge the county to be as transparent and inclusive of public input as possible.

At the very least, it should conduct public hearings on the various options in all areas of the county.

The county also can appoint a citizens’ advisory commission, and we urge the Board of Supervisors to strongly consider that.

After all, this process occurs only once every 10 years, to coincide with the release of U.S. Census figures.

It’s essential to start with a clean slate and without preconceived ideas.

We ask county officials to give us districts that make sense — not that protect individual interests.