Orange County supervisors on Tuesday made a sudden round of extra changes to proposed election maps that will change the county’s political landscape for the next decade, shortening the time residents can review the maps before their final pick.
Last week, the board – which oversees $8 billion in annual taxpayer money – agreed to a plan where residents would have 10 days to review the supervisors’ last round of proposed maps before supervisors adopt one on Nov. 22.
But on Tuesday, supervisors scrapped those plans and made a series of last-minute changes to maps, reducing the public’s review to just three days.
That’s the bare minimum public notice required under state law, according to the county’s attorneys.
The latest map changes were made verbally by supervisors at their public Tuesday meeting.
All without showing a map during the meeting for the public to follow along.
The new maps, and how they affect demographics of the proposed districts, are not slated to be published for the public until Friday, ahead of supervisors picking a final map three days later on Monday at a 1 p.m. special meeting.
Supervisor Don Wagner took note of the sudden changeup.
“At our meeting last week, we voted that we would have one more crack [at changing the maps], and everybody who wanted to take one took one more crack,” Wagner said. “We’re now talking about one more crack at the maps – which is contrary to what we said last week.”
But the supervisors who proposed another round of changes Tuesday – Lisa Bartlett, Andrew Do and Katrina Foley – said the changes were needed to fix lingering problems with the proposed maps.
Do, in particular, said the map he proposed involved splitting cities 14 different times – something the law says to minimize – so he proposed a series of changes he said would cut those splits in half to eight cities.
Dozens of residents and activists spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of various maps.
None of the maps supported by public commenters were the ones advanced and modified by supervisors.
The largest coalition of community groups – known as the People’s Redistricting Alliance – supports map 5, 5A and 5B, saying they create a Latino majority while keeping many Asian communities together in an “influence” district.
Supporters of map 2 and its variants noted it would create stronger Asian representation than map 5 by creating a district with a higher share of Asian-Americans.
Supervisors instead advanced two maps put forward by supervisors Do and Chaffee, with additional changes that will be made public in maps for the first time three days later, on Friday.
Foley accused Do of politically targeting her with his map by moving her into a district that’s not up for re-election for another three years – something she suggested is illegal.
“Under the California Fair Maps Act, one of the criteria is that you cannot politically target … a person that is on the dais. I’ve been here for 6 months. And you now are putting me into a district that is not up for re-election,” Foley said, her voice rising.
Foley was elected during a special election in March of this year, replacing Michelle Steel after Steel was elected to Congress.
“District 1 is not up for re-election until 2024 – which means I would not even be allowed to run. So if you’re trying to say it’s not about political targeting, it’s pretty obvious that it is,” she said.
Do didn’t dispute Foley’s claims at the meeting, and instead accused her of trying to target Chaffee in a map she proposed that wasn’t supported by the other supervisors.
Foley fought the claim, prompting Do to ask Chaffee if Foley’s proposed map excluded him from his district.
Chaffee, who is close to Do, didn’t address Do’s contention.
“Just admit it. Be honest with the public,” Foley said to Do, referring to her claim he’s politically targeting her with his map.
“I admit this process is a little fluid,” Do said in response.
Earlier in the discussion, Do said the mapmaking process is inherently political for supervisors, and that his map – known as 4C-1 – stays within the limits of the law.
“When we draw boundaries for the supervisors, it is a political process,” Do said. “We all have our political concerns. But it’s important that we stay within the boundaries of the law. And I believe that 4C-1 does exactly that.”
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and People’s Redistricting Alliance alleged Tuesday that several of the maps proposed by supervisors – including the one from Do that was advanced Tuesday – illegally involve partisan gerrymandering.
While the largest group of OC voters are Democrats, at 37%, “all versions of proposals 2 and all versions of proposals 4 include a partisan advantage for Republican voters in at least three of the five districts – when again they only constitute 33% of registered voters and that is trending downwards,” said Julia Gomez, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said during public comments.
Legal restrictions against partisan gerrymandering “can be enforced in court,” she warned.
Costa Mesa City Attorney Kim Barlow also alleged at Tuesday’s meeting that many of the redistricting approaches to the city she represents appear to be done to favor a political party – something that’s illegal under state law.
“That would be very inappropriate,” Barlow said.
Wagner responded that the maps supported by the ACLU would create a partisan advantage in favor of Democrats.
“The solution of map 2 favoring one party is not to create map 5 favoring the other party,” Wagner said.
“The elections code very clearly says … the board shall not adopt supervisorial district boundaries for the purposes of favoring or discriminating against a political party. Now, that to me is reason to knock out [map] 2 and the maps that come from it, and map 5 and the maps that come from it.”
Monday’s 1 p.m. meeting, where supervisors are scheduled to approve the final map, is open to the public for in-person comments.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And since you’ve made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.