As Orange County supervisors prepare to pick a new district map next week that will change the county’s political landscape for the next decade, residents and community groups are raising questions about a lack of public debate on the issue.
On Tuesday, supervisors held their second, legally-required public hearing on proposed district lines, ahead of their final decision on a map next Tuesday.
And while the supervisors proposed changes to the maps last week – and are set to propose more changes later this week – the board members have not debated the proposed maps in public.
That’s prompting calls for more transparency from supporters of the two main competing maps, known as proposals 2 and 5, and the letter-labeled changes supervisors have made to them.
“It is frustrating that there have been months of community hearings and hundreds of public comments, and we really haven’t heard any substantive feedback or response from the board of supervisors — especially during these last two board hearings,” said Cynthia Valencia, a policy advocate and organizer with the ACLU of Southern California, which supports map 5.
“Unfortunately it seems as if the public is being completely removed from the process until the maps are released by the supervisors. And there’s no notes or annotations … about why they have made any line changes, which is extremely frustrating as well.”
Such concerns are shared by Marc Ang, a leading supporter of map 2 who heads up the business community events group Asian Industry B2B.
“I’m shocked too at the lack of discussion,” Ang told Voice of OC after Tuesday’s hearing.
Ang said he’s heard a lot about what supervisors have been telling people about the maps outside of their public meetings.
“But that’s not being transparent,” said Ang, who formerly served with the prominent Republican fundraising group Lincoln Club of Orange County.
Ang says he’s now an independent and is registered with no party preference.
“It hasn’t been in a spirit of transparency and communication to the public. And I think that’s sad,” he added about the supervisors’ redistricting approach.
“I think that’s something that both sides – whether you’re on the left or the right, I think that’s better governance, when you see the reasonings.”
Supervisors Andrew Do, Doug Chaffee and Lisa Bartlett didn’t return messages for comment about the transparency concerns.
In a text message, Supervisor Don Wagner said he did not give a public explanation for his proposed map changes because “my map speaks for itself.”
Supervisor Katrina Foley said she’s submitted a written memo, published in a county agenda, outlining her stated reasons for changing the maps, such as keeping Costa Mesa together as one city.
She was the only board member to list her reasons for proposed map changes.
Residents and activists showed up in force at Tuesday’s hearing to argue for and against maps 2 and 5 and the changes supervisors made to them.
At Do’s suggestion, supervisors will now propose one final set of changes to maps by this Friday, before picking a final map next Tuesday. Then, there’s a series of votes in the following weeks to ratify that map.
Supporters of map 2 say it would create the strongest voice for Asian Americans, while also crafting a majority Latino district centered on Santa Ana and Anaheim.
“Proposal 2 is the best proposal that complies with all of the legal requirements … It also has the best and strongest influence of Asian community [members],” said a commenter who gave her name as Harumi L.
“The bottom line for me is the Asian community needs a voice. We cannot be shut out. And map 5 would be disastrous for that,” added Ang in the interview after the hearing.
Map 2 is supported by the Lincoln Club of Orange County, as well as a host of Asian American business leaders and chambers of commerce.
Backers of the other leading contender – map 5 – said their plan would ensure Latino voters are not diluted in other districts, and that the proposed boundaries grew out of a months-long outreach process in the community.
“We support [maps] 5 and 5A because they not only draw a federal Voting Rights Act district around communities of interest in Santa Ana, but they do so in a way that ensures all Latinx communities in Orange County have a voice,” said Ana Charco, who was speaking on behalf of the health outreach nonprofit, Latino Health Access.
Map 5 is supported by the ACLU of Southern California, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) and the UCLA Voting Rights Project.
Several Arab and Muslim-American community groups supported Map 5, saying it would keep Anaheim’s Little Arabia intact.
During public comments Tuesday, Valencia of the ACLU said all of the maps but 5 and its variants diminish the influence of Democratic voters, despite state law now banning drawing districts to help or hurt political parties.
“[All other proposals] target Democratic voters in North County that are in similar communities, by diluting their vote and placing them with dissimilar, heavily Republican communities,” Valencia said.
She said the other proposals split “concentrations of Democratic voters in Irvine. This not only breaks up cohesive communities of interest, but [it] appears it was done to make it hard for Democratic voters in that area to elect candidates of choice.”
Chaffee acknowledged that a map he proposed – known as 4C – would be illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act because it does not create a Latino-majority district.
He said he plans to change it so it would comply with the law, and submit that as a proposed map by the Friday deadline.
Chaffee acknowledged that the maps being proposed have “political overtones,” and suggested that in 10 years they consider having an independent commission draw the lines.
“Maybe the next time this comes around, we might consider – and it doesn’t have to be done today, we’ve got 10 years to think about it – creating an independent commission,” Chaffee said.
“Perhaps one composed of judges, and let them do a thorough job of making sure the legalities are done correctly, and take the political overtone out of all of the maps. I just think that goes over better.”
Without saying which map he supports, Do criticized backers of map 5 as misrepresenting their map as protecting Asian-American vote, when its largest Asian district has a smaller percentage of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders than maps 2 and 4.
“Please don’t come to this board and mislead the public … under the name of protecting Asian Americans,” Do said. “Because as I sit here right now, I’m offended by that kind of misleading, obvious misrepresentation of fact.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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