June 9, 2011 | Monterey County Weekly | Original Article

Central Coast redistricting puts Latinos in the spotlight

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission hearing in Salinas May 22 quickly became a polarized debate about the Central Coast’s identity in which the Latino community took center stage.

“Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties must be linked,” said Philip Tabera, president of the Tri-County Association of Latino Elected Officials. “We share cross-jurisdictional issues and a skyrocketing Latino population.” Tabera wants that considered in the once-a-decade process of redrawing districts based on updated Census data.

In Monterey County, Latinos make up a majority-minority population – 53.9 percent, to be exact – making them, in redistricting parlance, a “community of interest.”

Monterey County Supervisor Fernando Armenta stressed the importance of complying with the Voting Rights Act to ensure minorities have an equal say in electing representatives.

“We must keep the Latino community’s interests together,” Armenta said, citing the need to keep tri-county gang-prevention and educational programs serving Latinos within a single state senate district. “Don’t dilute the voting strength of Latinos by splitting them up into different districts.”

On the other side of the self-segregated room, the military community favored uniting Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties to reflect their socioeconomic presence.

“We have much more in common with San Luis Obispo County than we do with Santa Cruz,” said Ruth Crotzer, a military wife and resident of Monterey County. “We share the Defense Language Institute, the Naval Postgraduate School, Fort Hunter-Liggett and Vandenberg Air Force Base. We share a military culture and economic interests.”

Some attendees focused less on what united geographic areas and more on what divided them.

Representatives of the California Conservative Action Group accused local chapters of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) of playing the race card to increase their political clout. But Tabera and others contended that they’re advocating for the redistricting process to do what it’s intended to: make changes based on the significant demographic shifts the Central Coast has seen in the past decade.

The 14-member redistricting commission, comprised of local leaders from around the state, has heard a variety of opinions statewide, but Commissioner Angelo Ancheta says that the Salinas hearing was the most starkly divided he’s seen.

“We had two groups who presented largely inconsistent recommendations for the commission,” Ancheta says. Reconciling those perspectives is where the redistricting rubber meets the road.