July 28, 2011 | San Francisco Chronicle | Original Article

California remap gives Democrats more districts

California will have more political districts dominated by Democratic voters over the next decade, according the latest version of the state's redrawn political map set to be released today.

But more of those Democrats will be facing competitive races.

After looking at the maps, some Latino organizations are concerned that the state's fastest-growing group isn't being accurately represented in some parts of Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

"This is not a map that was drawn to ensure that Latinos had every opportunity to elect candidates of their choice," said Arturo Vargas, executive director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

These and other concerns will be aired when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission reviews the final draft map today, followed by a vote Friday. The commission is scheduled to approve the state's new congressional and state district maps Aug. 15.

"If it's not unanimous, I'm pretty confident we'll be able to get the super-majority we need to pass it," commissioner Cynthia Dai said.

Everybody involved in the process, including the commission, expects lawsuits to be filed.

"Redistricting plans always get lawsuits, and I fully expect somebody to challenge some aspect of the map or the process," said Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Some analysts said the process has been the most transparent in history. The commission has heard more than 2,700 speakers at public hearings across the state and fielded approximately 20,000 written public comments.

"If they did have a partisan agenda, they hid it pretty well," said Eric McGhee, who analyzes redistricting for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. "I don't see evidence of that at all."

What McGhee did find were six additional congressional districts where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. He also found 10 congressional districts that he described as competitive, compared with four now.

On the state Senate side, there will be four more competitive districts than there are now and two more in the Assembly, McGhee said

While Latino and African American groups were cautiously optimistic about map changes in the past few days, they're still not entirely happy.

Latino leaders say they're not being accurately represented in the San Fernando Valley and in parts of Orange County.

On the plus side, Vargas said, there are now two more congressional districts and two additional Assembly districts where more than half of the population is Latinos of voting age.

Vargas added that the redistricting hearings seemed to him to be "a popularity contest before the commission. They gave the greatest weight to whatever group made the most noise in front of them."

Updates to the maps also show:

-- Gays and lesbians in San Francisco's Twin Peaks neighborhood will be included in the same Assembly districts as gays in the Castro district. Previously they had been in the more conservative western part of the city.

-- Fremont's fast-growing South Asian community remained split into two congressional districts, diluting its political power.

-- The city of American Canyon in southern Napa County will get its wish to be included with the rest of Napa County.

-- African Americans say they have a good shot at retaining three congressional districts in the Los Angeles area. They feared losing at least one.