County springs into action on redistricting

By From page A1 | March 24, 2011

El Dorado County’s population grew by 16 percent in the past 10 years – from about 156,000 to just over 181,000. The 2010 census data show that El Dorado Hills grew by 77 percent during the period, while South Lake Tahoe lost about 9 percent.

“This kind of demographic shift causes redistricting,” Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly told the El Droado County Board of Supervisors last week. “And the process should be open, transparent – and legal,” she added.

Because of the changes in population, some if not all five county supervisorial districts will need to be redrawn to bring them into balance. By law, there should be no more than about a 5 percent difference between the populations of each district.

That said, Daly suggested four possible options the board could consider in order to implement the process. Her proposed alternative is to have the county surveyor draw up tentative maps based on the most current census data, then do a public outreach campaign followed by public hearings before the Board of Supervisors.

Variations discussed included simply having the supervisors decree what the boundaries should be. Citizen committees or appointed subcommittees were also on Daly’s list of options.

No matter which alternative is used, it is still the board that will make the final decisions regarding what will become the district boundaries for the next 10 years.

“Who holds the public hearings?” Supervisor Jack Sweeney asked. “In 1990, it got very politicized. And there’s no point in telling the citizens to do it and then saying, ‘You’re nuts.’.. I think the Board of Supervisors should go to those hearings —three dispersed around the county and one back here.”

Supervisor John Knight weighed in, advising that the process should “observe community boundary lines and as much as possible use natural boundaries, such as a river or Highway 50.”

Sweeney added the new boundaries should not disrupt “communities of interest” nor break up other special districts.

“Like little community services districts, they should all be in one supervisorial district,” he said.

Chief Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp described a degree of urgency for the project, because people wishing to run for elective office in November need to know the exact boundaries of the district they hope to represent. Knapp said, “to be practical,” July would be the final deadline for redistricting in time for the November ballot.

State election code plays a significant role in the process, according to El Dorado County Registrar of Voters Bill Schultz. Voting precincts can only be redrawn following redistricting, and  Schultz noted that the code specifies “no more than 1,000 voters per precinct.”

Chairman Ray Nutting pointed out that, according to preliminary data, his District 2 would lose 8,259 constituents. Nutting’s district currently includes portions of the Lake Tahoe Basin and sections of the south and west county as far as El Dorado Hills. Because of significant growth especially between 2002 and 2005, the El Dorado Hills area pushed the overall district population up to more than 44,000. The 8,259 will have to be spread fairly among other districts.

Richard Boylan of Diamond Springs addressed the board and demanded that the process be transparent. Boylan called Districts 2 and 4, “models of how not to do districting” and said the process had been “anti-democratic because of breaking up communities of interest.”

Sweeney again recommended that the process be completed by the end of June and suggested three consecutive evening meetings be held prior to a final board hearing.

After the discussion, one audience member quipped, “This is when you realize how important it is that the county surveyor is an elected and not an appointed official.”

That sentiment was echoed by Mike Applegarth, an analyst in the CAO’s office who will be part of the team selected to design and implement the redistricting process. Applegarth talked to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday morning and explained that the primary purpose of redistricting is “to make sure people are fairly elected.”

He said the objectivity of an independently elected surveyor “allows a lot of room for public engagement.”

Dividing the county’s population by five, Applegarth said, “We’re shooting for 36,212 residents per district.”

“Rich Briner, the El Dorado County surveyor, and the Geographical Information Services team are already poring over the the new census data, and they will try to come up with maps that are sensible and that ‘will pass the laugh factor.’ There will only be a handful of maps that are reasonable,” Applegarth said.

He added that the CAO’s office is “very open to suggestions regarding public outreach” and will add features to its Website such as e-mail alerts and easy access to information about the process.

After the public meetings, supervisors must hold at least two hearings. The first will be to adopt the final map and the second to pass an ordinance certifying the new district boundaries.

Applegarth said he anticipated that tentative maps might be ready for the public by mid-April.

Chris Daley

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