El Dorado Hills, Tahoe offer redistricting challenges
The redistricting process must adjust the boundaries of El Dorado County’s five supervisorial districts to equalize populations, all the while respecting its ever evolving but loosely defined “communities of interest.”
County attorney Ed Knapp, who’s helping oversee the process, contends that two things are certain: It won’t be easy, and someone’s not going to like the final maps.
The two most obvious problems with the current district alignment lie at eastern and western borders of the county.
Supervisor Ray Nutting’s District 2 includes the southern portion of El Dorado Hills and much of the rural South County. It needs to get 8,000 residents smaller.
Supervisor Norma Santiago’s District 5 is located in the Tahoe Basin, bounded by the lake and state line to the east and what she calls “the granite curtain” to the west. It has the opposite problem. It’s 5,400 residents shy of a full load.
She argues that the Tahoe Basin’s unique politics and geography make it a distinct “community of interest” that shouldn’t be split up or watered down.
Much of Tahoe’s population isn’t included in the redistricting algebra because their Tahoe homes aren’t their primary residence. Many others in the Basin on any given day are simply visitors, who nonetheless use services and in many situations, pay taxes.
During the recent “redistricting road shows,” Knapp explained that the populations of the districts should be as close as is practical. He’d like to see less than 1 percent variance.
To accomplish that, South Lake Tahoe’s western boundary must move west … way west, through the sparsely populated “granite curtain” high country, into the Western Slope ranch communities: Somerset, Fair Play, Grizzly Flat, Outingdale, possibly even Pollock Pines.
Nutting currently represents those communities, and spoke on their behalf at a recent combined Community Council/Area Planning Advisory Council (APAC) meeting in El Dorado Hills. He explained that the rural communities under consideration have nothing in common with the Tahoe Basin, that they’re far more conservative and less environmentally minded.
He proposed defying the strict population guidelines in favor of an undersized District 5.
“The law says you have to look at topographic and geographic aspects, the cultures and customs, the commonality of community,” he said. “I believe we can take Tahoe at 32,000 and leave the rest of the districts at around 37,000. If we get sued we go to court and plead our case.”
Santiago and Nutting stand at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but are united in favor of an undersized District 5. Both would like to retain the integrity of their respective communities of interest.
Reached by phone, Santiago confirmed, “Ray and I have been talking about this for six months, and I have no problem with any proposal that keeps this district intact.”
“District 5 operates in a unique regulatory environment, which has nothing in common with the rural Western Slope communities Ray represents.”
Santiago predicts that her district’s population downturn will soon reverse. “Thing’s are changing,” she said. “The policies we’re putting into place will revitalize (the district) and bring in greater population.
“For six to nine months of the year our population nearly triples,” she said. “And that population could conceivably double over the next 10 years.
“Those people impact our infrastructure,” she added. “We’ve successfully argued for federal road funding based on that argument.”
Santiago argues that contrary to Knapp’s goal, in the case of District 5, population trends have to be taken into account. “We’re rebuilding communities here.”
“What Ed (Knapp) is saying is that we have to make sure we have strong arguments to support (population variances.)”
Informed of Nutting and Santiago’s stance, Knapp repeated his road show message: “The farther you get from 1 percent (population variance) the better your reason should be.” He added, “My job is to defend the board’s decision, which I will do.”
At the end of the day, district population variances are a problem only if someone sues the county over them, which Santiago is betting won’t happen. “I don’t know anyone who would sue us over this,” she said.
Santiago suggested that District 5 could pick up a couple thousand residents if its southwestern boundary was bumped out to include the high Sierra communities of Kyburz and Kirkwood, neither of which have much in common with West Slope ranching communities.
“I’m ready to fight over this,” said Santiago. “I’m ready to take this to the state or the feds … There’s no doubt that we’ll see more growth up here.”
At the west end of the county, El Dorado Hills has the opposite problem. It’s grown since the last census. One of its two districts needs to shrink.
Nutting encouraged residents at the Community Council meeting to advocate a redistricting map that retains influence in two districts, at least.
District 2’s eastern boundary shifts west in all five county alternatives. Only Alternative 2 leaves Nutting’s Happy Valley home inside the district. A supervisor who gets redistricted out of his or her district cannot run for reelection in that district.
“If I get redistricted out of District 2, oh well,” shrugged Nutting. “It’s what’s best for the citizens, not the supervisors.”
Nutting nonetheless told his El Dorado Hills audience that he believes county Alternative 2 is best, in that it leaves El Dorado Hills with two supervisors.
Four Seasons Civil League President John Raslear pointed out that the three large new developments south of Highway 50 in El Dorado Hills, Four Seasons, Carson Creek and Blackstone, have nothing in common with the rest of District 2, which is rural in county Alternative 2.
APAC Chairman John Hidahl suggested that the county’s two western districts should be made up of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park, both of which are residential communities with a lot more in common with each other than, say, Outingdale.
At that point El Dorado Hills activist Paul Raveling, fresh off an afternoon at the Redistricting Center in Sacramento, took the floor and described a draft of his own map, which replaces county Alternative 3’s north-to-south slices with concentric circles emanating from El Dorado Hills.
Later in the week, Raveling distributed three new maps, all of which embrace Hidahl’s suggestion, isolating two-fifths of the county population into two western districts.
Raveling’s Alternatives 1 and 3 (there is no Alternative 2) are El Dorado Hills-centric, with southern and eastern portions of El Dorado Hills lumped in with a Cameron Park-centric District 2.
His Alternative 4 slices the two westerly districts from east to west, bisecting El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park into a northerly District 1 and a southerly District 2 that also includes Shingle Springs.
All three of Raveling’s maps have identical boundaries for Districts 3, 4 and 5. District 3 includes Diamond Springs, Coloma-Lotus and Georgetown. District 4 includes Placerville, Camino and Pollock Pines. His District 5 includes the Tahoe Basin and the Western Slope ranch communities.
Interim Cameron Park Community Services General Manager Rusty Dupray was the District 1 supervisor during the previous redistricting process in 2001. He reviewed the alternatives and responded favorably to Raveling’s Alternative 4.
“In my experience it’s a bonus to have two strong supervisors representing the community,” he said. “This gives El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park two supervisors each.”
Of the five county maps, Dupray preferred Alternative 3, which places Cameron Park and the easterly neighborhoods of El Dorado Hills into District 2.
The five alternatives will be presented to the board in late June or July.