June 10, 2011 | Whittier Daily News | Original Article

Draft of state redistrict plan released to public

An independent citizens panel Friday released its draft of new maps for California's congressional and legislative districts in a process that could reshape the state's political landscape.

On the surface, the plan to redraw California congressional districts could result in the loss of political power for Republicans in the San Gabriel Valley and a larger number of Democrats representing the state in Washington, D.C., experts said Friday.

The redrawn maps for state Assembly, state Senate, congressional districts and the state Board of Equalization also include the first-ever proposal for a state Assembly district where the majority of the population is of Asian descent. That district includes much of the West San Gabriel Valley.

But the plan's congressional component also splits Pasadena in half for the first time in several decades.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission action Friday allowed voters their first chance to see new boundaries not drawn by politicians interested in protecting their seats.

Californians established the commission in 2008 in response to gerrymandering by lawmakers that preserved districts for incumbents and their parties.

"We understand (that in the past districts) have been drawn for incumbency and partisan gamemanship," Commission chair Gambino Aguirre said Friday. "When you recognize the fix is in to where an individual is going ot be re-elected no matter what, that has a chilling effect."

Ultimately the draft maps released Friday by the panel reflect communities with like ethnic identitites rather than traditional splits favoring incumbent Democrats and Republicans.

A series of hearings on the maps will be held throughout the state beginning later this month. The commission's first scheduled stop is in Culver City on Thursday. The commission will then hold a hearing Friday in Whittier.

While there were complaints Friday about the shape of certain state Senate districts and the splitting of several communities, commissioners on the 14-member panel admitted their draft maps aren't perfect.

"It may not be possible to give a community everything they want,' Commissioner Angelo Ancheta, a Santa Clara University professor, said Friday. "This is the first set of maps that we are taking back to California ... there are some things we could probably work out given more time."

Final maps will be certified in August.

Some of the harshest criticism of the draft maps came from Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Latino Officials.

Vargas used his Twitter account, ArturoNALEO, to take on the process Friday afternoon. Among his tweets:

"Poorest Latino ares of LA City linked w/ millionaires of Beverly Hills, list goes on. statement coming out soon."

"Maps do not reflect 2010 census data, where Latinos 90% of states growth. # of latino districts reduced."

"Just reviewed #redistrictingca maps. Worst case scenario for #Latinos. #latism #wedrawthelines

Noneless, some experts said the process was a step in the right direction.

"Huge improvement over what's in place, but I think there is still a ways to go," said Douglas Johnson, a redistricting expert and fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College. "There are some big Voting Rights Act concerns."

Johnson said Vargas' disappointment is somewhat understandable, but said the maps could be significantly revised before they become final.

"I think it's a sign that we are still going to see a lot of changes," he said. "Its a real question mark on what happens. They could totally be redrawn between now and August."

In a statement issued Friday, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, echoed some of Johnson's sentiments.

"These lines represent the continuation of a lengthy and important process. Californians deserve the best possible representation in both Sacramento and Washington," Dreier said. "The many public hearings to be held this summer will give them an opportunity to have their voices heard."

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said Friday he was concerned that the proposal - which splits Pasadena at the 210 Freeway - didn't place the entire city with Burbank and Glendale, which share common interests.

On the other side of the Valley, Whittier City Councilman Owen Newcomer said he thought the commission did a good job.

"It's a whole lot better than what we have now," Newcomer said.

"I'm impressed first that they got (the first maps) done in time and that they're making good progress," Newcomer said. "I thought it most likely they would fail the task and the courts would have to step in."

Newcomer complained that the commission didn't do a perfect job of joining two Assembly districts into one state Senate district.

For example, Montebello and Santa Fe Springs are in the same Assembly district with Whittier but in a different state Senate district.

Commissioners said Friday they recognized the problem, but said redrawing state Senate districts was tricky given the length of a term - four years - and the rotation of election years for senators.

Experts and observers found reason to praise the process as well.

"The very fact that these are draft maps available two months before the actual maps are legally due itself is a result that Californians should be happy about," said Justin Levitt, associate professor of law and redistricting expert at Loyola Law School. "We are not getting maps at midnight made by lawmakers behind closed doors. A lot of input has been offered and considered, and a lot more will be offered and considered."

Bogaard also praised the openess of the process.

"Well they've certainly taken it out of the hands of electeds," he said. "Whether they will produce a product that is superior and lead to competitive races and a more moderate mentality in Sacramento where coming together in agreement is more achieveable remains to be seen."