Orange County residents get to begin giving their opinions to the county’s redistricting commission on none other than…April Fools Day.
Last week, just as a the commission began its deliberations, a handful of activists gathered at the county Hall of Administration already publicly criticized what they saw as weak outreach for the process.
“This is wonderful,” said Wanda Shaffer, president of the League of Women Voters, North Orange County, pointing to an email blast list for the March 10 meeting. “But you only did it one time.”
Art Montez, a longtime civil rights activist and former Centralia School District board member, also criticized the county’s three-minute rule on input as well as weak public outreach.
“What amazes me in government, is that we still can’t get emails out to everybody,” Montez said, pointing to weak public turnout for the meeting.
Montez — who is representing the GI Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (the nation’s first Latino civil rights group) — and has been active in the redistricting battles from past decades warned commissioners, “participation needs to be clear.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo with you guys,” Montez told commissioners, adding, “we all had black hair when we started on this.”
He also pointed out that few people have been to court as many times over redistricting as himself and fellow activists like Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana chapter of LULAC.
Hernandez reminded commissioners that public participation would be key to withstanding legal challenges under the federal Voting Rights Act. Hernandez also had concerns potential charges for using public equipment to generate maps on redistricting.
The latest data dump of demographic numbers from the U.S. Census (delivered once every ten years) usually triggers a mad dash among consultants jockeying to have new political boundaries drawn to favor their own political careers.
The public historically had a backseat to the process, which prompted a series of recent ballot initiatives. California voters have since handed the power to redraw political boundaries for state and congressional representatives to independent commissions.
However, county supervisors still retain the rights to redraw political boundaries at the local level.
In Orange County, supervisors handed that responsibility to a committee of representatives – supervisors’ own chiefs-of-staff – from the county’s five districts.
Don Hughes – a longtime fifth floor aide who now serves as chief of staff to County Supervisor Pat Bates – is chairman of the group. Last week, the committee began to outline how it would work with the public.
The panel’s main goal is to get county supervisors a redistricting plan that can adjust for changes in population in a fair manner that can withstand legal challenge by July 26.
The big challenge facing committee members will be how to keep the five supervisorial districts balanced, meaning they represent roughly 602,046 residents.
According to the recently released census numbers, Orange County’s first supervisorial district shrunk over the past decade.
The First District — central OC such as Santa Ana, Westminster, Garden Grove — shrunk from 584,882 people in 2000 to 579,151, or 3.8 percent, in 2010, according to county documents.
Conversly, the county’s Third District — Irvine, Tustin, Orange — grew by 6.86 percent.
The potential implications of the population shift are considerable. The City of Santa Ana has already announced it will challenge the census counts.
In the coming month, the county’s redistricting commissioners will be deciding a host of issues regarding public participation such as the sites where members of the public can use the software that allows them to move political boundaries on their own.
Members of the public can even submit their own plans to the committee, which is required to keep record of the plan and consider its adoption or incorporation.
The next meeting is April 1.
And County Deputy CEO Rob Richardson promised commissioners to do a better job of getting out the emails.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.