Drawing the lines: Activists lobby for two ‘more urban’ supervisorial districts
El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park activists turned out in force at the July 19 El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting to ask the supervisors to hold off accepting a tentative redistricting map, and to argue for the creation of a pair of western, “more urban” supervisorial districts.
Many left feeling that they’d won a redistricting battle — the discussion was continued to Aug. 8 — but were losing the war for greater El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park representation on future Boards of Supervisors.
“The elephant in the room is the supervisors want to preserve their two rural districts in the north and south of the county,” said El Dorado Hills activist Hal Erpenbeck. “They slice off pieces of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park … and disenfranchise everyone who lives there.”
Erpenbeck lives in one of the slices along Bass Lake Road in El Dorado Hills, which the June 27 map puts into District 2, along with Grizzly Flat, Somerset, Mt.Aukum and western Cameron Park.
The other slice that has activists even more concerned is an estimated 5,000 eastern Cameron Park residents that the map puts into otherwise rural District 4.
The board instructed county Surveyor Rich Briner to work with District 1 Supervisor John Knight and District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting to address concerns with the boundaries between their districts, but to leave District 4 alone.
That’s a caveat that members of the recently formed El Dorado Citizens for Responsible Government say makes two westerly districts impossible.
Cameron Park’s 18,000 residents combined with El Dorado Hills’ 42,000 and some adjoining estate residential lands nearly double Briner’s target single-district population of 36,212.
Making two west-county districts seemed obvious to El Dorado Hills activist Paul Raveling. Using the software tools at the James Irvine Foundation’s Sacramento Redistricting Center, he created a series of population-compliant redistricting maps that demonstrate multiple ways to accomplish the task. None leave Nutting, who lives in the Happy Valley area, in District 2.
Raveling’s efforts haven’t been acknowledged by any county supervisor or redistricting official, and haven’t been reflected on any of the county-created redistricting maps.
Briner introduced the June 27 redistricting map, dubbed the “preview map,” to the supervisors last Tuesday as a product of public and board comments. District boundaries were adjusted to reflect precinct and parcel lines, he said. The final map will contain more fine tuning to keep school and fire districts intact whenever possible to make “fair and equitable” districts.
“Equitable is easy,” quipped Knight. “Fair is a more elusive definition.”
The latest map leaves Knight’s District 1 as El Dorado Hills’ primary district, bridging Highway 50 to include the Four Seasons, Carson Creek and Blackstone projects that were previously in District 2.
The remaining 6,000 or so El Dorado Hills residents in eastern El Dorado Hills are lumped into a meandering District 2 dominated by the south county ranchlands, including District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting’s home.
If an ordinance isn’t in place by Nov. 1, state law calls for a redistricting commission consisting of the district attorney, assessor and either the elections official or school superintendant to settle the matter. The map needs to be finalized by mid August in order to meet the deadline, according to Chief Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp.
District 4 Supervisor Ron Briggs counted 17 hearings on the matter and announced early on, “We’ve hashed this out enough,” and said he wouldn’t support a motion to continue, and made a motion to accept the map as final.
“The map we have here is imperfect and that’s what makes it perfect,” he said. “Every change we make is a gerrymander.”
Briggs’ motion died for lack of a second. Knight followed with a motion to continue, saying, “The map needs to reflect what we’re going to be seeing in the next 10 years, because 70 percent of the population increase will be in the community regions.”
The public then took turns jabbing Briner’s preview map. Ron Mikulaco, who lives between El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park, got a few laughs by announcing, “This map carves Cameron Park up like a turkey.”
Dr. Richard Boylan, who lives in Diamond Springs, opposed the inclusion of Diamond Springs and El Dorado into Placerville’s District 3, then opined that the preview map “looks like it was designed to preserve incumbent districts.”
Rachel Michelin, representing the Citizens for Responsible Government, said she appreciated the redistricting road show conducted by Briner and company, but accused the supervisors of not being more personally involved in the issue.
Nutting countered that he attended several redistricting meetings, including one in Pollock Pines that attracted 60 attendees.
Herb Prevost spoke for The Bass Lake Action Committee. “Our end of the county has been marginalized by the new map, almost to the point of disenfranchisement.” he said, then asked the supervisors to look for some way to keep the more urbanized western portion of the county intact.
Cameron Park resident Greg Prada echoed Prevost’s message, arguing that tighter communities of interest would draw residents into the political process, and “opens the door for those people to gain critical mass, and create opportunities to work together and get some traction on local issues.”
In a followup e-mail, Prada questioned Briner’s statement that the June 27 redistricting map was the result of public input, citing an examination of the public comment forms.
“[We] fail to see how your department possibly could represent that the ‘surprise map’ you provided the supervisors on June 27 reflects documented public input,” he states. “The citizens of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park clearly and publicly have stated their desire to be kept intact in two suburban districts.”
“That’s the last thing [the county] wants,” said Erpenbeck. “There’s only five districts, with Placerville and South Lake Tahoe dominating two. If they give us two, that would force some of the rural areas in the north and south county to be absorbed into other districts, which to us makes more sense that mixing me in El Dorado Hills with Grizzly Flat, or someone in Cameron Park with Georgetown.”
The June 27 map features an enlarged District 5 that extends east into Pollock Pines, a realignment necessitated by a South Lake Tahoe population that has shrunk by roughly 5,000 people over the last 10 years.
Pollock Pines resident Tom De Ville complained to the board that his community had been sliced into three separate districts. He later suggested that Briner honor the Pollock Pines zip code boundaries.
District 3 Supervisor Jack Sweeney, who was the driving force for having staff rather than a citizens committee develop what he hoped would be apolitical redistricting map options, said he regretted that the June 27 map wasn’t acceptable.
“I thought we got someplace without political gerrymandering, but here we are, about to start gerrymandering, and if we’re going to go there I have some things I want to see.”
He also reminded his fellow board members that the final map doesn’t have to last a full 10 years. “We’ll probably be fixing this in five years if the projected growth in El Dorado Hills happens,” he advised.
Nutting worried that staff would come back with a major change that would necessitate another round of community meetings, and suggested that the Aug. 8 map changes be limited to the El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park boundaries, along with some “edge issues” in Pollock Pines.
“They’re afraid of giving us too much of a say,” said Michelin afterward. “They think that if we have more representation we’re going to try to make their districts suburban or something. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Michelin said she’d be surprised if her new coalition succeeded in its goal to create two non-rural districts on the west end of the county, but added, “The silver lining of the whole issue is that it could ignite incorporation in El Dorado Hills.”