Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts from the California Redistricting Commission Meeting

As you may know, redistricting is one of my biggest passions and California's redistricting situation is no exception. I have written three separate posts revising and editing my proposed California redistricting maps and I have sent my most recent version to the commission. On May 20th, I decided to share my thoughts with them because the commission would be holding a public comment meeting in Santa Rosa. Although California is keeping all 53 of its congressional districts, slow population growth increases the likelihood that the Bay Area will lose a district. Some proposals say that Marin County should be combined with San Francisco and as a Marinite, I like San Francisco but we do not belong in the same district. We belong with Sonoma County instead.

As I drove north to Santa Rosa, I looked at the traffic on the highway. This further highlighted my argument that Marin County and Sonoma County were communities of interest in the way they shared commuting issues. San Francisco did not have these same issues. I was not surprised to hear three people mention the traffic in their public comments about how the similar traffic issues connect Marin County and Sonoma together.

We arrived smoothly and I became speaker #23 by being the 23rd person in line. While waiting on line, I talked to three women. They were all from Napa and one of them wanted to connect Napa and Sonoma together. Another though wanted Napa to be in a more agricultural district with Central Valley counties. She drew a map with Napa, Yolo, Glenn, Colusa and Lake Counties. It was handrawn so I said, "You should try Dave's Redistricting App (DRA). It gives you the correct population numbers and demographics." They said they would check it and I hope they like DRA as much as I do. They later introduced me to a few Republican activists from Napa who were very nice. I did not mention that I am a Democrat. A few minutes later, I told a Mendocino presenter about my recent redistricting plan. I told her about my proposal for the 1st district. She liked that I included Lake County, liked that I added Trinity but I am not too sure if she liked that I added Yolo County. I quickly explained that my 1st district was composed of tourist areas and university areas. Yolo County is a university town with UC Davis while Humboldt County has Humboldt State. Also, the liberals in Yolo County probably agree on more issues with North Coast liberals than conservative rural voters in the Central Valley or more moderate Democrats in Solano County.

When I arrived, there was a small line of people waiting for ticket numbers but as 6:00 drew closer, more people arrived and all the seats were filled by 6:00. At 6:00, the commission member presiding was Vincent P. Barabba, a registered Republican from Capitola. He has connections to Marin County though by serving on the now closed Hamilton Air Force Base.

As the speakers began, I believed there would be similar perspectives on Marin and Sonoma County staying united. The first speakers though were from Mendocino arguing for placing as much of Sonoma County as possible with Mendocino County. The Mendocino County speaker I spoke to advocated for not placing Redding and Mendocino County in the same district. She and one of her friends said that it takes around 3 hours on a day with no traffic to drive to Eureka from Redding. "We have nothing in common with Redding," they said. I agree because the Redding area and the Central Valley have an agriculture based economy while Mendocino/Humboldt Counties are based less around agriculture. Another Mendocino County speaker was a member of the Pomo tribe and wanted all the Pomo Lands in the same district. Not many people consider Native American tribal lands while redistricting in California (they do though in Arizona with the Navajo and the Hopi) so I was really glad the Pomo tribe member shared her concerns.

Also, a presenter stated that she wanted Sonoma and Napa to be combined into the same districts because she wanted the wine country to stay united. The Napa County Board of Supervisors wanted Napa to stay united too. I agree with keeping Napa united but it is possible the commission will place American Canyon in the same district as Vallejo because they are similar communities. Another speaker suggested that Napa should be combined with Central Valley counties such as Glenn and Colusa. The next speaker though advocated for not combining Central Valley counties north of Yolo with Napa County because the agricultural interests are different. Napa grows mostly wine while Colusa and Glenn grow other crops such as almonds.

When my number 23 was called, I felt a bit worried because many of the previous speakers advocated for uniting Sonoma County with Mendocino or Napa Counties. I was worried my comment would go over the two minute limit but I stood and began to read. I talked about how Marin and Sonoma are two counties with mostly upscale suburban communities and San Francisco is an urban area not even connected by land to Marin County. As I stopped, I turned around to see applause. My suggestion that these two "upscale suburban communities" should be combined was even quoted in the paper:

As the meeting progressed, more and more Marin speakers appeared, advocating for uniting Marin and Sonoma. I realized that many of the Marinites were stuck in the traffic that I faced while driving to Santa Rosa. A few of them mentioned it in their comments. I heard other great arguments from the speakers for uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. A firefighter discussed how the routes he drove to fight fires showed how Marin and Sonoma were connected. A Marin County resident stated how Marinites care about grass fires, not graffiti and that Marinites care about the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, not Hetch Hetchy. A speaker from San Anselmo in Marin County who helped repair the damage of a flood that decimated local businesses said, "We would be more forceful if we joined forces with Sonoma County, a similar county." Another speaker asked the commission, "How many redwoods are in San Francisco?" Marin County has a reputation for its redwood forests and hiking trails on Mt. Tamalpais while San Francisco does not have much hiking. A speaker who lived in both Marin and San Francisco made a great argument by saying, "San Francisco has universities and public transportation. When I lived in San Francisco, I saw Marin as "the country." It reminded me of my Grandma's Farm outside of Boston." Also, I was not the only young person at the meeting. An eighth grader from Sonoma said she supported uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. Susan Adams, one of Marin's County Supervisors also gave a strong argument for uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. Judy House, a former city council member of San Anselmo gave a summary of the crowd's feeling by saying, “There is an overriding sense that Marin would like to be with Sonoma."

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the commission meeting. Although a few people supported combining Sonoma with Mendocino or Napa County, the crowd clearly favored combining Marin and Sonoma Counties. I hope that the commission sees the connections between Marin and Sonoma Counties and decides to draw a district similar to the current 6th district which combines Marin and Sonoma Counties.

1 comment:

Digger said...

Wow. This is quite an amazing blog. An impressvie amount of work has gone into some important demographic detail to understand nuances of redistricting.

I was once a reapportionment wonk. Phil Burton (John's smarter brother) used to do exactly what you did and then he would go to each member of the Congressional delegation and ask them what they thought of their proposed district.

No one (except Burton) got to see the whole thing. So each member of the delegation studied their own proposed district in detail and would ask for small changes to pick up some party population or to exclude some up and coming potential contender.

There was no consideration about the compact nature of districts or communities of interest. The only thing important to this process was 1) What was important to the sitting Congressmember and 2)what was important to Phil Burton.

In other words, the deck was heavily stacked to re-elect incumbents. No one wanted to go through the indignity of a competitive election.

We sneer at China, Iran, Cuba and other countries because, although they might have something that passes for democracy, those in power stack the deck so that their position is secured.

Although these countries call themselves democracies, no one seriously considers them a credible democracy.

Which begs the question: If we stack the deck to preserve incumbents, are WE a credible democracy?

Our current system is such an improvement over the days of Phil Burton. However, I am suspicious of things like "Status: Safe Democratic". Politics should not motivate reapportionment, maintaining (achieving?) a credible democracy should.