California redistricting: First Citizens Redistricting Commission releases draft maps

2011 First Draft Congressional District Map of California
2011 First Draft Congressional District Map of California
California Citizens Redistricting Commission

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The citizens’ commission appointed to draw new political boundaries in California will unveil its draft maps Friday. It’s the commission’s first try at doing what state lawmakers used to do every 10 years.

Critics say lawmakers drew lines that kept incumbents safe from political challenges. That’s one reason why voters backed a 2008 ballot measure to have a commission redraw the lines for Assembly and Senate districts. Later, voters added Congressional districts to the commission’s charge.

Five Democrats, five Republicans and four “decline to state” voters listened to public testimony to get an idea what Californians thought was important for drawing political boundaries. Commissioner Jeanne Raya, a Democrat from San Gabriel, found it moving.

“People came to talk about their economic relationships within communities or between cities. They talked about the transportation corridors that they use, how that connects them, in some cases separates them. They talked about the educational systems — how they’re related; cultural communities, religious institutions — just about anything you can think of in your own life that somehow defines what your neighborhood, city is like and what you think relates you to the next city and the next city.”

Of course, some Californians testified they don’t want to be in the same district as other constituents. Raya says some rural voters said they want to be separate from urban voters.

“And if you look at some of our districts you can see and see why we have some of those messages. People saying: 'I’m on the coast, don’t take me over across the mountains, down in to the valley, and across the desert.'” Raya explains, “People talk about having access to their representatives, not being a hundred miles away from their representative’s office.”

The commission followed a hierarchy of criteria: Districts have to have equal populations; they have to ensure the voting rights of minorities. The lines have to be contiguous and geographically compact, and they have to respect the natural boundaries of cities and communities.

Raya says what makes it challenging is that "everybody has to give a little in order to give as many people the best representation that we can, the best districts that we can, fair districts, but it requires a lot of compromise."

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will hold another round of hearings on the draft maps — the first one is scheduled for next week in Culver City. Final district maps are due by Aug. 15.