It’s a decision that will reshape political power and community representation for the next decade.
And at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the public will get a chance to weigh in.
That’s when the county is holding its first hearing on proposed maps for redistricting the powerful seats of Orange County supervisors – who decide on billions of dollars a year in health, law enforcement and social safety net spending.
The supervisors themselves will ultimately decide which communities will go in which district – with new state laws placing limits on considering incumbency, candidates and political parties when redrawing the maps.
They’ll be considering eight proposed maps from the public, available for review here.
Paul Mitchell, a leading redistricting analyst and consultant in California, said shifting demographics now call for a majority Latino district in Orange County – a shift from the current map approved in 2011 that splits Latino-majority cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana.
“I do believe in Orange County that they have a responsibility to draw a majority-minority Latino district around Santa Ana. And I think they should be drawing a district that’s an opportunity district for the Asian-American community to the west of that,” said Mitchell, the owner of Redistricting Partners and vice president of Political Data Inc., in a phone interview last week.
“If I was to look at maps and not see both of those elements, then I would probably feel that plan is falling short.”
While the process is legally aimed at keeping communities together and not politicians’ election chances, questions have mounted about whether supervisors are aiming to trade parts of their districts to engineer safer re-elections by jettisoning areas that didn’t vote for them, and adding in areas that are more favorable at the ballot box.
Areas getting particular attention among county insiders are whether supervisors will move the heavily Democratic communities of Santa Ana, UC Irvine and Laguna Beach out of Republican supervisors’ districts and into nearby districts represented by the board’s two Democratic supervisors.
The only supervisor who returned previous calls for comment about that issue was Doug Chaffee, who said he wasn’t aware of any such plans.
It’s crucial for the public to get involved in the process, said Mitchell.
“I think the public needs to be engaged. And if they’re engaged and the [Board of Supervisors is] being pushed to follow the Voting Rights Act, and [supervisors] do it in an honest way, they should draw maps that are in the interest of the public and not get them sued.”
So far, one map is known to have generated support among community activist groups – one the county labeled “Proposal 5.”
Activists are calling it the “People’s Map,” saying it’s based on extensive outreach to ask residents which communities they want to be represented with.
“We did quite a bit of work going door to door … canvassing and talking to community members – not just those who are politically represented or those who have quite a bit of power,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA).
“This was done with everyday community members, to hear their voices about what they wanted. And what resulted was the map we’ll be presententing.”
The groups supporting that map include OCAPICA, the ACLU of Southern California and Orange County Civic Engagement Table.
Supervisor Katrina Foley said she’ll be making sure the laws are followed as the maps are redrawn.
“The redistricting process is designed to serve the public by empowering communities that share common bonds so those communities can be heard with as strong a voice as possible. As a County Supervisor, I’m committed to ensuring this process is fair and transparent and respects all federal and state laws that relate to redistricting,” she said in a text message Friday.
Supervisor Don Wagner said some of the proposed maps are “good starting points.”
“I’m not sure any of them can or would get adopted without some tweaks,” Wagner said in a text message Friday.
“I absolutely encourage the public to weigh in on those maps on Tuesday. I don’t think Tuesday will be the end of the process. We have some work still to do and encourage further public participation.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she was still reviewing the maps, and encouraged residents to participate.
“The voice of the public is an important component in the redistricting process,” Bartlett said in a text message Friday to Voice of OC.
The other two supervisors didn’t return messages for comment about the redistricting process.
Redistricting is inherently political, said Jon Fleischman, an OC-based conservative activist who formerly served as executive director of the California Republican Party.
“I see redistricting as fundamentally a political process. Other people may see it as something else. But these are the drawing of political boundaries, and I don’t see how you get any more political than that,” he said in a phone interview last week.
“Most of the time voters are picking their politicians. This is the one time every 10 years where politicians get to pick their voters.”
The new state laws against using political factors for redrawing the lines stand in contrast with how this actually works, Fleischman said.
“I don’t know how realistic that is,” he said of the new legal limits.
“It’s naive to think you can divorce politics from the process. It just doesn’t happen that way.”
OC Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño said there should be both a Latino district and an Asian American district on the Board of Supervisors.
“I also think there is an important factor that needs to be looked at while creating this district, and that’s the income level and home ownership – whether it’s rental or home ownership ratio,” Briceño told Voice of OC last week.
“So would Little Saigon have more in common with a wealthier community like Huntington Beach, or more working class communities like Stanton and Buena Park?”
Messages for comment were not returned by Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker and Executive Director Randall Avila.
The last time OC supervisors redrew the boundaries, they handed off the process to their own political aides and focused on protecting their own seats.
“Continuity of representation” was the way supervisors put it in their goals for redistricting a decade ago.
During the 2011 redistricting, Latino and Vietnamese resident groups criticized the county for not doing much of its redistricting work in public.
Voice of OC reported at the time that at their few public meetings, committee members heard public concerns and then, with little discussion, voted for the maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.
The final map approved in 2011 split Orange County’s sizable Latino community into two districts.
And it redrew the supervisors’ district boundaries in a way that a local Republican Party leader said guaranteed GOP victories in all five seats.
The next few years did go on to yield solid wins for the GOP, with Republican candidates winning all county supervisor elections in the seven years after the maps were redrawn.
After Tuesday’s hearing, there’s another public hearing a week later on Nov. 9 where supervisors could decide on a map to move forward with.
Or they can hold a third hearing on Nov. 16 and pick a map then.
Then, the chosen map goes for a final public hearing on Dec. 7, and supervisors have until Dec. 15 to lock in their final approval of the map.
The maps will be used for the June primary next year, and will be in effect for the following decade.
Correction: This article has been updated to include comment from Supervisor Don Wagner.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.