Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson called on individuals and organizations of his district to participate in the county’s redistricting process, during a public hearing at the South Berkeley Senior center on Tuesday.
“This has been designed to be an open and inclusive process,” Carson said. “You have an opportunity to submit a whole redistricting plan or to make comments.”
Every 10 years, when the U.S. Census information is released, supervisors must draw new boundaries to equalize the population of each district.
The new demographic information indicates that the five districts of Alameda County must now have a target population of 228, 000 people each. To meet this target, approximately 30,000 individuals will have to be added to District 5.
Carson’s district is currently bounded by Thornhill Drive in Oakland’s Montclair District in the southeast. The boundary then moves south along Highway 13, follows Park Boulevard and Highway 580. Finally, it goes around Lake Merritt on Grand Avenue, connects to Broadway then goes west to the Bay.
The northern and eastern limits of Carson’s district are on the border with Contra Costa County. District 5 includes Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Piedmont, west and north Oakland.
The area added to District 5 will have to be to the south, moving farther into Oakland. Some scenarios have the extended district taking more of the Oakland hills area, now part of District 4. Other plans suggest that District 5 should encompass the part of District 3 that now includes Oakland’s Chinatown.
When it started its redistricting process in April, the county scheduled 13 public hearings and created a web site to provide residents with the information they need to participate in the political process. Residents have until July 5 to submit proposals and will also be able to attend a working session with the Board of Supervisors on July 24. The board is scheduled to make its final decision by August.
Despite the open process, few people have given their input. Only about six individuals and representatives of organizations attended Tuesday’s hearing.
Jo Ann Price, president of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville, said all but one of the nine alternative plans submitted have been produced by county supervisors.
“This year even though (the county) has made efforts to put all the information out, fewer people are getting involved,” Price said.
She said she attributes part of this lack of participation to the tight deadline to submit proposals – and to cynicism. “People are cynical and have the feeling that if they get involved they won’t make any difference,” she said.
A few residents, however, expressed their concerns. Jack Fleming, who lives in Berkeley, called for a more thorough definition of the criteria that those producing map proposals have to respect. The criteria, set by the county’s redistricting committee, include geography, cohesiveness, adherence to previously drawn districts, and communities of interest, among others. As they are now, the resident said, these criteria may be interpreted in very different ways and leave the county “vulnerable” to criticism.
Oakland resident George Pearson said he is worried about the scant attention paid to various racial and cultural issues in the redistricting process. The plans adopted he said, always represent the dominant culture and leave the interests of the minorities aside.
“It’s always the people who are in control that are given control again,” he said, before adding that the county should bring the dialogue with its citizens to a higher level. The discussion continues to center around questions of the process of redistricting rather than the impact it has on people’s lives, he argued.
According to Price, several communities in the county have interests at stake in this process, but are not necessarily aware that their involvement is critical. “In Oakland, for example, there is a particular area where a lot of immigrants are living. They have a community of interest that they should try to keep together and that may not happen if they don’t get involved,” she said. “It does make a difference just as voting makes a difference.”
For additional information on the redistricting process visit the Alameda County Web site at http:///www.co.alameda.ca.us and click on “Redistricting.” The site includes an interactive feature that allows users to post and read public comments about the proposed redistricting plans online.
The last redistricting hearing will take place Saturday 10 a.m. at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1900 Sixth St.