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Redrafting the Redistricting Maps: Challenges and Compromise

Locals are happy with the latest maps, but city redistricting issues remain heavy in Watsonville as the Redistricting Advisory Committee tries to accommodate a disgruntled senior community, while upholding the Voting Rights Act.

Local officials were content when the Citizens Redistricting Commission released its initial maps in mid-June. Congressional and assembly lines appeared more or less the same, the towns of Capitola and Scotts Valley remained virtually unaffected, and things were even better for the county in whole because of the reunification of Santa Cruz and Monterey in one state Senate seat.

However, district lines began to blur because of an error involving minority rights, leading to a revision of congressional lines that would have divided the city into two districts.

After the release of the first-draft maps, redistricting officials soon realized that they didn't include enough Latino voters in the district, potentially decreasing their representation in elections, according to a Santa Cruz Sentinel article.

Dividing Santa Cruz would have had far-reaching effects on the county, ranging from water to education, and would have compromised the county's ability to secure federal funds, and influence legislation.

Essential economic and community programs would have been on the line as well, a redistricting line that Santa Cruz Councilman Don Lane called a cause of great concern around the city and among community groups.

“Right now the city of Santa Cruz is one of the biggest cities in the congressional district. If it had been divided in half, it would have become a small piece of those two districts, and not as influential,” Lane said.

Fortunately, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council proposed new maps to the commission in late July that would protect the city of Santa Cruz against the slicing-and-dicing of congressional lines, while increasing the Latino Citizen Voting Age Population.

The council's proposal revised the commission's former solution from dividing Santa Cruz and incorporating the city of Gilroy, which would have contributed more Latinos, to unifying Santa Cruz and only combining the east side of Gilroy.

This action corrected the 2 percent retrogression of Latinos the district faced, and the revised maps were accepted and incorporated into the preliminary final maps illustrating California's state and congressional districts, released Friday, July 29.

“The commission didn’t think there was a way to deal with retrogression aside from cutting the city in half,” said Glen Schaller, political coordinator with the Monterey Bay Labor Council. “On the final day, they adopted it. It really shows that when you have people, get in touch with them and propose a solution, [that] you can have an amazing impact.”

The issue that almost diluted the county's congressional voice may be similar to the one preventing Watsonville from finalizing their city district lines.

The problem entails the issue of minority retrogression, which is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and states that minority voting rights can’t be reduced to a lesser position. The act further protects "communities of interest" by keeping like-minded people together. Monterey County falls under Section 5 of this act, with Santa Cruz County sharing their congressional lines.

The issue of district lines seems to be secure in Santa Cruz until Aug. 15, when the commission is scheduled to give the final yay or nay.

As for Watsonville, city district lines remain under negotiation as the challenges council members over city district proposals that they fear would reduce their voice by moving homes from their district.

“The committee is coming back to find ways to not divide the senior community, but we’ll have to divide parts because District 7 has too many and District 2 too little,” said Watsonville councilwoman Nancy Bilicich.

Watsonville is working with a consultant on a new proposal, which will be presented to the community's redistricting advisory committee on Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. Residents are encouraged to attend the meeting and provide their input.

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