Smaller Cities Fight for Fair Shake in Redistricting

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche says its nothing personal, but she really wishes the state committee drawing new legislative and congressional boundaries would keep her town away from Irvine and Santa Ana.

Lisa Bartlett, a member of the Dana Point City Council, holds similar views of Long Beach.

And officials in La Habra just wish they didn’t have to be mixed up at all with anyone in Los Angeles County.

Most of the attention drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Committee has been directed toward making sure ethnic and racial communities of interest, particularly Latinos and Asians, are held together as much as possible.

But Cavecche, Bartlett and other local officials worry that when the new lines are drawn, their towns will be brushed aside or overwhelmed by larger communities, leaving them with no voice in Sacramento or Washington.

When small cities are split and the pieces are tied to much bigger communities, “you may get a really good representative who’s going to pay attention to you, but you may not, and that’s the problem,” Cavecche said.

If a smaller town wants the attention of its elected officials, Cavecche said, it’s important that those officials have no choice but to pay attention to the community at election time. If most of their votes are coming from a bigger city, the smaller ones can be ignored.

“When you’re broken up and kind of stuck” to a district dominated by a large city, she said, “you lose representation.”

Orange, with a 2010 population of 136,416, is now split among three Assembly districts, said Cavecche. But all three Assembly districts are within the same Senate district, and no single bigger city dominates Orange.

Which means, Cavecche said, that when human nature takes over and elected officials are either extremely busy or start counting votes, they can’t ignore their constituents in Orange.

But she worries that some of the draft plans being considered by the redistricting committee would change all that. Some of the plans would combine Orange or pieces of it with Santa Ana or Irvine.

“Their voters [Irvine or Santa Ana] are going to maintain control of that district,” Cavecche said. Elected officials “will look at where a majority of their votes come from, and that’s the community that will be represented.”

Even worse, she said, are draft plans that split the city among two or three Assembly districts but put Orange in a state Senate district that doesn’t include any of the Assembly districts.

The redistricting committee is acutely aware of the concerns of Orange, Dana Point and communities along the Orange County-Los Angeles County border.

At daylong hearings Friday, Saturday and Sunday, commissioners specifically asked to see different configurations that avoid the kinds of splits that worry leaders in several Orange County communities.

The problem is, drawing district boundaries is a bit like solving a Rubik’s Cube. The minute you move a few thousand people at one end of the county, it can disrupt plans for districts across the rest of the county.

Orange County may see some of its northern cities combined with overflow from Los Angeles County. The same applies in the far south to Dana Point and San Clemente, which could end up in San Diego County districts.

Remapping Goals

The purpose of redistricting is to redraw board of supervisors, legislative and congressional boundaries to reflect the 2010 census figures. The primary legal requirement is to make sure each district is almost identical in population.

The federal voting rights laws also require those redrawing boundaries to try to ensure that they don’t disenfranchise minorities, as was done in the South in the 1960s when blocks of black voters were deliberately split to ensure they couldn’t elect a black to office.

The two largest minority groups in Orange County are Latinos, which are 33.7 percent of the population, and Asians at 17.9 percent. The total county population, according to the 2010 census, was 3,010,232.

The largest concentrations of Latinos, according to maps provided by the committee drawing new lines for the Board of Supervisors, are in central and north Orange County. Asians are clustered in the west-central, north and Irvine areas, according to the maps.

Orange, with a 2010 population of 136,416, has 52,014 Latinos and 15,350 Asians.

Various plans for Orange County use sections of Orange to link Latino populations in Santa Ana and Orange.

The committee is supposed to try keeping such communities of interest together as much as possible while still meeting population requirements and making the finished product as geographically compact as possible. That means they’re supposed to avoid crossing county boundaries or splitting up cities.

“They have a tough job,” said Cavecche.

But, she noted, one draft connected part of her city as far south as Laguna Niguel while another headed west to Los Angeles County.

“Why would they do that?” she asked. “It makes no sense.”

Cavecche said Orange has the most in common with its neighbors to the north, Placentia and Yorba Linda.

Dana Point’s Bartlett feels so strongly about keeping her town of 33,351 intact and in districts with similar cities that she not only testified this month at the Redistricting Commission hearing in Fullerton, she flew to the commission’s San Francisco and Sacramento meetings last week to reinforce her message.

Some draft plans would create districts that span the county’s coast, from Long Beach to San Clemente, but cut Dana Point off from nearby San Juan Capistrano or Laguna Niguel. Since the smaller communities share issues, like drinking water access, they should be together so their representatives speak for them in Sacramento and Washington, said Bartlett.

“The needs of Dana Point are completely different from the needs of Long Beach or Costa Mesa,” she said.

At the other end of the county, La Habra City Councilwoman Rose Espinosa had a similar message for the redistricting committee.

At their Fullerton meeting, she urged members to reject one proposal that would separate La Habra, population 60,239, from the rest of Orange County and put it into a Los Angeles County legislative district.

La Habra deals with government agencies, such as school districts and transportation authories, that are in Orange County, not Los Angeles County, Espinosa said. Besides, she added, “I’m proud to be an Orange Countian.”

Alan Keigner of the unincorporated Orange County neighborhood of Rossmoor near Seal Beach, offered a similar plea.

Please, he urged the redistricting committee, don’t approve a draft congressional plan that pulls Rossmoor into a Los Angeles County district that includes the port of Long Beach.

“We have nothing whatsoever in common with the people in the port,” he said.

The next set of draft maps by the redistricting committee will be released July 14.

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