Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | Orange County could change drastically under some of the proposals being considered by a county panel preparing to redraw supervisorial districts based on the 2010 census.

Or maybe it won’t change much at all.

The redistricting process is required under federal law after each census to make sure that political boundaries provide equal representation. An independent committee established by voters is redrawing boundaries for state and congressional districts.

In Orange County, supervisors handed the job to their chiefs of staff.

Last week, the Orange County Redistricting Committee unveiled nearly two dozen potential political maps of Orange County. Maps were also submitted by the Santa Ana League of United Latin American Citizens and several other members of the public. 

Supervisors, except Janet Nguyen, submitted changes for the maps. In most of the supervisors’ proposals, boundaries would not change much.

But the plan submitted by LULAC calls for substantial changes. That plan would split 13 cities.

“Cities aren’t protected by the law,” said Art Montes, a senior LULAC official and former school district official who has been involved in redistricting battles for decades.

Montes told the committee Thursday that the LULAC plan is the most legally defensible because it has the least variation in population among supervisorial districts.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the districts must have nearly equal population. It also calls for communities of interest, such as cities or ethnic groups or a combination, to remain together.

Accomplishing that every decade is not always easy and is often challenged in court.

LULAC officials told the Redistricting Committee on Thursday that while their plan splits cities, it is the most likely to avoid lawsuits. “We have set the standard,” Montes said.

Yet while supervisors may avoid lawsuits from ethnic groups, cities may not agree to being split.

For example, Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang wrote county supervisors this week, asking them essentially to leave Irvine alone. He recommended “no changes to Irvine’s supervisorial district boundaries,” leaving Irvine entirely within one supervisorial district.

“As Irvine moves toward build-out,” dividing the city “could hamper the city’s ability to effectively master-plan the community in a manner Irvine is known and lauded for,” Kang wrote.

Zeke Hernandez, a senior official with LULAC, has been critical of the current redistricting panel, arguing that it’s unclear how it will ultimately decide on a recommendation for county supervisors.

“You still have not approved a definitive process for how you will discuss and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors,” Hernandez said. “You’re deferring it to the last meeting. But I really feel the public ought to know how you will be going about looking at the needs of he county for the next 10 years. It does have a significant impact on the electoral process.”

But Ben de Mayo, a former county counsel who is assisting the panel members, assured them “you are complying fully with all the mandates — in fact, exceeding what’s happening in other jurisdictions.”

Don Hughes, Supervisor Pat Bates’ chief of staff and chairman of the Redistricting Committee, told Hernandez, “I don’t know when we are going to make our decisions.”

Hughes and other panel members said all decisions on new maps would be made in public.

In addition to the meetings taking place at the county Hall of Administration, the redistricting panel will begin next month to hold meetings at cities across Orange County. Those meetings will run through June.

In the meantime, the public can view maps and make comments by heading to the county’s redistricting page.

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