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Redistricting raises issues that maps won’t solve


Side discussions of long-standing political problems shed little light on answers

By Jay Gamel

Progress on the decennial duty of looking at the U.S. Census Bureau count of who lives where in Sonoma County and deciding if political boundaries need alterations was aired at the Oct. 5 weekly meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Ed Sheffield and Ana Horta, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the 19-member Advisory Redistricting Commission (ARC), gave the supervisors an earful on the issues from the ethnic minority groups they were tasked to include in the process. Few, if any, of those issues, however, can be resolved by political mapmaking, though all supervisors agreed they deserve much fuller and ongoing attention.

Meanwhile, the county administrator’s office, which oversees the ARC, solicited residents to submit their own maps of how they’d like to draw lines around any or all of the county’s five supervisorial districts. All maps were due Oct. 15, and a final map must be submitted to the state by the Dec. 15 deadline. At this point, it is unclear just how radical changes might be.

ARC members will see preliminary maps drafted from all submissions at their Oct. 18 meeting, receive public feedback on Oct. 22, and narrow the map options down on Oct. 25. Supervisors will look at those options at their regular Tuesday meeting on Nov. 2, pick preferred options by Nov. 16, and introduce an ordinance to adopt a final map on Dec. 7. The final map will be adopted on Dec. 14. All meetings will be available to the public, with opportunities for public input on Oct. 22 at the ARC meeting and at the Board of Supervisors’ meetings.

The 2020 Census has been a difficult process, subject to political pressures from radically different federal administrations and Congress, with Supreme Court reviews of what questions could be asked and extending time for the count because of COVID-19 delays. Normally, the results of the 2020 count are available starting the following year, but the advent of the pandemic in March 2020 slowed everything down.

California’s own census rules required the raw federal data account for prison populations, which delayed the release of the final counts to Sept. 29, according to consultant Shalice Tilton. The redistricting schedule that started in January was based on final numbers being available by July.

The rules are flexible about how the job gets done, but not so much on the timing of the process. Even though the final numbers were late, the state is not budging on the Dec. 15 deadline.

District One

The First Supervisorial District is “bounded on the north by Franz Valley School Road, the Napa county line to the east, to the west by Petaluma Hill, Summerfield, Brush Creek, Wallace & Riebli Roads, & [by] San Pablo Bay to the south,” according to the county website at District-1. “Population is concentrated in the City of Santa Rosa (Bennett Valley, Rincon Valley, and the community of Oakmont), the City of Sonoma, and the adjacent unincorporated communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Agua Caliente, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Schellville, and Vineburg.”

Oakmont, Kenwood, and Glen Ellen are all in the middle of the First District, represented by Supervisor Susan Gorin. Unless some radical redrawing occurs in the next month or so, there is little chance minor boundary changes could have any local impact.

Even assembling the ARC was a rocky process. Originally designed to have 14 members, complaints of a lack of diversity prompted the addition of five more members with strong minority ties. Having a group of people redraw maps is new to Sonoma County. In the past, it was handled by an ad hoc committee of supervisors, or even by a single person.

The ARC makeup is not what you’d expect either, consisting of people well connected to communities throughout the county, but with only one member who actually lives in District 1 — Raymond Willett, who serves on the Springs Municipal Advisory Council.

“Within the Commission, there is wide interest in equity and delving into the details of the data to identify communities that have shared culture, or characteristics that nurture our community’s diversity,” Willett wrote in an email. “The late data has given us an opportunity to define equity principles to apply to our work as we go forward. But will there be time? I think more time could have been provided in the beginning of this process to provide a more complete context to the commissioners from the federal, state and local levels, [from] legal history and requirements to the selection of the demographic and outreach consultants.”

The new process was allocated just under $250,000 for expenses. National Demographics Corp. (NDC) was retained in February to conduct the process.

Population numbers are vitally important to local government. At under 500,000 people, Sonoma County is classified a “rural” county. The 2010 number was pegged at 499,000 and change; in 2020, that number has dropped to 489,710, according to the official figures just provided. That is a huge break point in federal and state funding eligibility.

“It cost us $45 million in Cares Act funding,” Fourth District Supervisor James Gore exclaimed. County supervisors have long lamented the county’s “rural” status for federal and state highway funding, social services funding, and much more. The total cost of being classified a rural county runs into hundreds of millions of dollars in lost funding every year.

The supervisors also touched on longstanding issues of how well the current system represents city populations. Four districts (1, 2, 4 and 5) are equally divided (roughly) between city and country dwellers. The Third District, represented by Supervisor Chris Coursey, encompasses almost all of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins suggested the long coast might better be served by being split. While not a novel idea (the coast was divided between two districts until 30 years ago), the issues are unlikely to be resolved in the short time remaining.

Redrawing lines is required where the difference between the largest and smallest districts is greater than 10 percent. District One has the fewest now, thanks to wildfires and high property prices, with 94,051 people. District Three has the most people, at 100,240, for a mean difference of 6.38 percent — not enough to force a new map.

And while many issues of equity may need to be resolved at a political level, redrawing maps will not be the way it will be done.

“You have been under pressure to fix things that are historic problems, particularly around race in this community,” Coursey said. Redistricting is a “very proscribed process that limits what you can do.” Federal and California law prohibit considering race in redistricting. “Your charge is pretty limited in redistricting voting districts.”

According to the new census data, minorities are roughly split among the various districts, with whites a majority of 58 percent in total population, and 74 percent of the voting age population. They are followed by Hispanic at 16 percent, Pacific Islander/Asian at 5 percent, and Black at 2 percent. District One has the widest disparity, with 85 percent of the voting-age population being white, followed by 11 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent Black.

Go to for complete information on meeting dates and census information.