Besides big ticket items like cannabis or unwanted development, many items that go before the Sonoma County board of supervisors don’t attract a lot of public attention, so it was a surprise to some that the topic of redistricting garnered hundreds of emails and dozens of people using zoom to voice their opinions to the board.
The data from the 2020 U.S. Census was late in getting out, so county officials say they didn’t have the usual amount of time to use that data to redraw the boundaries of the five supervisorial districts, as required by law.
"We have to make sure that we have continued compliance with the United States Constitution, which prohibits racial gerrymandering and that drawing of those boundaries," said Deputy County Counsel Linda Schiltgen.
For the first time, those district lines weren’t just hashed out in a back room by a few politicians. Instead, a committee was formed by 19 citizens who volunteered to spend a huge amount of time learning the laws and rules that govern drawing of district lines. And then spend many more hours trying to come up with a map that satisfied all the criteria. A new state law called the FAIR MAPS Act requires counties to engage communities in the redistricting process.
After many meetings, the advisory redistricting commission, or ARC, unanimously agreed on a map and submitted it to the board of supervisors. But once released, that map upset a lot of people.
Schiltgen said despite a significant amount of public outreach by county staff and ARC, “there are many members of the community that were not a part of that process. If they weren't seeing the updated websites and informed of what was going on. And so many people have chimed in since then. And that is the point of the new California FAIR MAPS Act. It's to make sure that everybody is invited to the table who wants to participate to give their thoughts.”
During this week’s fourth public hearing about what the new map should look like, more locals spoke out.
“Roseland, as we all know, has a history of being disadvantaged in its position vis-a-vis Santa Rosa, that needs to be resolved. Several of these maps put the northern boundary of what's called Santa Rosa at Highway 12…[that] is inflammatory because what it would do is then again, disenfranchise areas south.”
“I usually hate to say I want to support the status quo, it’s not in my DNA, but I believe right now with the short time frame, that's the best choice of the supervisors.”
“Give little guys a win here. Rohnert Park’s the loudest voice, but loud doesn't necessarily mean right. And electives have to discriminate between going with the equity zeitgeist or caving into the loudest voices.”
“Other folks of color have the same challenge...they don't have the privilege to sit and wait and comment and beg for you to see the equity-centered map. Yes, it's a little different. Yes, it’s a change.”
That was a caller who gave his name as Thomas, Gina Cuclis, Fred Allabach and Kirstyne Lange.
Lange is an ARC member and some callers said they agree with her perspective.
“It just doesn't affect just the next two to three years,” Lange said. “This is 10 years. That's five election cycles. If we don't build infrastructures and systems that allow for more and more folks to see themselves represented, how do we expect for them to stay here and to feel like this is a place that they want to grow and thrive?”
On Tuesday, a majority of supervisors said they intend to support the ARC map, with a few changes here and there. There’s a fifth and final public hearing on Sonoma County’s new district map on December 7.