Redistricting fights are hot and heavy throughout the country this year as states and other jurisdictions adjust political boundaries to reflect the results of the 2010 Census and make strategic preparations for 2012, a Presidential and Congressional election year.
However, if the number of people attending one meeting is any reliable indicator, interest in Alameda County Supervisor redistricting is almost vanishingly small in Berkeley.
A Monday, June 6, 2011 public hearing drew only about 22 people to the North Berkeley Community Church, and only about a third of them were self-identified as interested residents of Berkeley or Oakland. The others were County officials and staff, and media.
The public hearing—one of six being held county-wide—was hosted by District 5 Supervisor Keith Carson, who represents all of Berkeley, Albany, Piedmont, and Emeryville, as well as a swath of North and West Oakland. It set off no visible controversy or fireworks, not even a wet squib.
(The meeting also included a presentation by City of Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks about regional plans for accommodating population growth. I’ll cover that in a separate article.)
“We really want to try to make this an open process”, Carson told the thin audience. “Thanks to all of you for being here, I know everyone’s time is valuable.”
Carson gave the floor to Alameda County Community Development Agency head Chris Bazar, who introduced staffer Michael Munk, “our census and demographic tsar.”
Munk offered a short primer on the redistricting process, and local demographic changes since the 2000 Census.
The population of Alameda County has grown to 1,510,271, he said, an increase of 4.6% over 2000, “slower than in previous decades.” Dublin, Fremont, Livermore, Pleasanton, San Leandro and Castro Valley have seen the greatest percentage increase in population compared to 2000. Oakland, on the other hand, lost nearly 9,000 residents, although it added 12,202 housing units.
Berkeley had a nearly 10% increase in population, numerically the third largest growth among Alameda County communities; only Dublin and Fremont gained more residents than Berkeley.
The number of housing units in the County grew by 42,366 or 7.8% during the decade.
Countywide, racial demographics saw a considerable shift, with the Black / African American population decreasing 11.2% (23.2% in Oakland) and the Asian American population and Hispanic population increasing by 30.9% and 22.7%, respectively over year 2000 levels.
Asian Americans now represent a little more than one quarter of Alameda County residents and Hispanics a little under one quarter, while the White, non-Hispanic percentage fell from nearly half to 43%. The Black / African American population fell from about 15%, countywide, to 12.6%.
Munk showed a Powerpoint with the basic “requirements and goals” of redistricting. Districts should have “approximately equal population”, “should be contiguous and use easily identifiable geographic boundaries”, “preserve communities of interest”, and “assure fair and effective representative for racial and language-minority groups.”
The redistricting process, Munk said, is following a fairly fast track. In April a redistricting website was put up by the County. Between May 28 and June 10 public hearings are being held. June 10 (this Friday) is the deadline for submitting redistricting proposals to the County, and on July 12 the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt a final plan.
Citizens can make their own proposals—if submitted by Friday—Munk and Bazar said. Munk is the contact person at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org can provide assistance using proprietary software at County offices to create plans.
Munk said that the population in District 5, which Carson represents, has gone up 4.6% since the last Census, but to conform to the new average district size for the County, District 5 needs to yield about 6,000 residents to other districts.
Presently, he said, there’s a disparity of about 17.3% between the districts with the largest and smallest populations, and established case law on redistricting generally regards 10% as the maximum differential. The current disparity is “clearly more than the 10% that is acceptable, so it is necessary to redraw the districts to balance them out.”
The major change proposed by County staff “is moving some of the population from Crocker Highlands (in Oakland) to District 3”, Munk said.
“We tried to come to some reasonable accommodation”, said Carson. He said he’d worked with Supervisor Wilma Chan, who represents adjacent District 3, and their shared goal was to “do an extension of an area” so District 3 would slightly expand into District 5. The area that would move from his district to Chan’s, he said, would cover part of the Trestle Glen / Lakeshore neighborhoods in Oakland.
On the County Staff map a new tongue of District 3 moving east of Highway 580 up to the Piedmont border represents this change. A chunk of the Oakland Hills south of that area would remain in District 5, nearly cut off from the rest of the District to the north. In the central part of the County District 3 would lose a little territory along the San Leandro / Castro Valley border.
The “Citizens Redistricting Task Force” proposals would shift more of the Oakland Hills, but less of the area adjacent to Lake Merritt, into District 5.
None of these proposals would have a direct impact on the representation of the northernmost communities of the County, since Piedmont, Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany would all remain represented by the District 5 Supervisor.
District 5, in the staff plan, would have a population of 305,842. About 155,000—roughly half—of those residents are non-Hispanic White, 8,335 Black / African-American, 102,247 Asian, and nearly 50,000 Hispanic. Nearly 3,000 living in District 5 identified in the Census as American Indian or Hawaiian.
The staff proposal would give District 5 the largest White population among the five districts, the smallest Black / African American population, the second largest Asian American population, and the second smallest Hispanic American population.
In District 2, Asians and Hispanics combined would outnumber non-Hispanic Whites about 2-1, while in contrast, in District 1, southeastern Alameda County, the non-Hispanic White population would outnumber all other ethnicities.
Three redistricting maps are currently on the table. County staff prepared one. A group called the “Alameda County Citizens Redistricting Task Force” submitted the other two. A fourth proposal was initially submitted by the same group then withdrawn.
There was nothing about the “Task Force” presented at the meeting, other than the maps and a mention that they were not officially associated with the County. Looking at the Task Force maps, my impression is that it is mainly concerned with the district lines in the southeast, encompassing the large suburban and rural areas beyond the Oakland Hills.
Two key issues appear to be whether cities to be divided between two or more districts should lie primarily east or west of the Oakland Hills, and whether areas to the east should be consolidated in one district, or contain extensions of other districts.
Coverage in other media, including the East Bay Citizen, indicates that the district boundaries in the southern part of the County are much more controversial, with objections in particular from some Pleasanton residents that they would be split between two districts, and repeated claims that the Tri-Valley area has little in common with the immediate eastern shore of San Francisco Bay
In a number of anonymous posts on articles and blogs these disputes sometimes spill over into outright racism, with “Anonymous” or fictionally named posters leveling racial slurs at African-American and Hispanic communities on the west side of the Oakland Hills, and / or contending there is a tax drain from the suburbs of the Tri-Valley area to the more urban western part of the County.
Other articles, however, attribute part of the dispute over district lines to reported personal animosity between individual supervisors and various municipal elected officials, or jockeying for strategic position among current and future officeholders.
“Tea Party” type activists also seem to have gotten into the mix with on-line exhortations to their followers to participate in the redistricting process, although from what I could find it was unclear if they had a specific redistricting goal, or simply a general feeling of grievance about not controlling politics in Alameda County.
In an East Bay Citizen article posted on Friday, June 3, Steven Taveres wrote, in part:
“An initial county redistricting map presented Tuesday in Dublin brought considerable opposition from officials and residents in Pleasanton for a proposed partition of the city between Supervisor Nate Miley's District 4 and Scott Haggerty's District 1.
A duo of alternative maps offered by a group calling themselves the Alameda County Redistricting Task Force would keep Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley whole, but instead, splits Hayward. The newest maps including a fourth proposal quietly taken off the table because it drew district lines outside the homes of two current supervisors brought about equal consternation to a similar meeting Wednesday in Hayward.
"It does more harm to one and does that by preserving a historical east-west conflict," said Jesus Armas, a former Hayward city manager and current school board member. "As a Hayward resident, I would not support this."
You can read that article and other discussions here:
Pleasanton Weekly News: http://www.pleasantonweekly.com/news/show_story.php?id=6990
See the Alameda County official redistricting site here: http://www.acgov.org/redistricting/meetings.htm