Roughly 20 El Dorado Hills residents and a handful of redistricting wonks from neighboring communities, along with several El Dorado County officials turned out at the second of six redistricting meetings scheduled over the next few weeks in locations around the county.
The meeting contained more brass than a marching band, led by county Chief Administrative Officer Terry Daly and the county’s all-purpose analyst Mike Applegarth, who wore his redistricting hat for the evening. Chief Assistant County Council Ed Knapp, Surveyor Rich Briner, Recorder/Registrar of Voters Bill Schultz and GIS analyst Linda Wright were also in the room, as was their boss, District 1 Supervisor John Knight.
Applegarth played emcee for the evening and outlined the road show’s goals: to explain the alternatives for redrawing the county’s five supervisorial districts, educate the public about the process and collect feedback.
Knapp outlined the history of redistricting and the California Elections Code which dictates its timing: once every 10 years, following the census. He shared the No. 1 goal of redistricting: to balance populations across all districts within 1 percent. The current target district population is 36,212.
Retaining communities of interest is a second priority, Knapp explained, and can be used to justify minor population variances between newly aligned districts. Factors to consider include topography, geography, cohesiveness, continuity, integrity and compactness of territory.
One woman wondered why populations must be so precisely balanced when the census is inherently out of date the day after it is taken. Knapp explained that the process has been used to exclude minorities in the past, and also has also been subject to “gerrymandering” for political purposes.
The goal in El Dorado County, he said, is to avoid those problems and make the process as transparent as possible.
Another attendee questioned how anticipated growth is taken into account. “It isn’t,” replied Knapp. “We use the census figures, period.”
El Dorado Hills resident Norm Rowett worried that retaining communities of interest might be impossible when the districts have to be balanced within 360 people. He suggested that a 3 percent variance would still be within the letter of the law, and would allow much greater flexibility.
“The farther you get from 1 percent the better your reason should be,” said Knapp, who reminded the group that the process is historically litigious, and the redistricting team wants to avoid lawsuits.
Surveyor Briner was next up and he described the maps on the wall, one of which displayed the current district boundaries. Another indicated population densities.
Two other maps demonstrated that two obvious “communities of interest,” the El Dorado Hills Community Services District in the west and South Lake Tahoe Basin in the east, failed the population test. The CSD boundary is 6.7 percent over the target population. The Tahoe Basin has lost population in the current recession, and is now 15 percent low.
District 5 in South Lake Tahoe must gain 5,400 residents. District 2, which includes south El Dorado Hills, must lose more than 8,000 residents.
That left five alternatives that meet the population requirements.
Alternatives one and two are based loosely on current district boundaries, adjusted to compensate for the westward population shift. Neither alternative makes dramatic changes in El Dorado Hills.
Alternatives four and five are variations of the district map from the 1990s. Both divide El Dorado Hills along Highway 50, with District 1 to the north and District 2 to the south. Highway 50 is a hard boundary in alternative four, bisecting the communities along the freeway, most notable Placerville. Alternative five is similar, but moves the boundary north of Placerville, thus retaining the integrity of District 3.
Briner called alternative three “a completely different thought process.” It divides the county into five north-to-south slices. Most of El Dorado Hills remains in District 1, with some spillover along Bass Lake Road into Cameron Park’s District 4. Placerville and Pollock Pines are each split along north-south lines.
District 2’s eastern boundary shifts west in all five alternatives. Only alternative two leaves District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting’s Happy Valley home within his district.
A supervisor who gets redistricted out of his or her district cannot run for reelection in that district.
“This process isn’t about me as a supervisor,” said Nutting over the weekend. “It’s about what’s good for the citizens of the county.”
El Dorado Hills resident Paul Raveling couldn’t attend Thursday’s meeting, but took the time to draw up a sixth map, which many in the room had seen. Raveling’s “alternative 6” replaces alternative three’s north-to-south slices with concentric circles emanating out from El Dorado Hills into Districts 1, 2 and 3, with no change from alternative three in Districts 4 and 5.
It keeps most of El Dorado Hills in District 1, with the spillover east of Bass Lake Road into Cameron Park’s District 2.
GIS Analyst Wright wondered if Raveling used census data to draw the map.
“No I didn’t. But I think I’m within 5 percent,” said Raveling, adding that his map is intended to keep communities with like land uses together, and to recognize the importance of road networks in defining communities. Spreading El Dorado Hills over two districts “dilutes our influence,” said Raveling. “It’s better to concentrate it.”
Nutting disagrees. “My recommendation is the more the better,” he said. “That’s just common sense. Look at what we just went through with the Transportation Commission.”
Asked to judge Raveling’s map after the meeting, Briner would only say, “If it fits the population it’s as viable as any of the others.”
El Dorado Hills resident John Raslear asked that the maps be enlarged, and that roads and population densities be included. “Even when you zoom into these maps, you can’t tell where you are.”
Briner later explained that providing tract-level detail can “turn redistricting into a battlefield” over parcels along district boundaries.
Cameron Park resident Barbara Smiley said she liked the way alternative 3 grouped like populations.
El Dorado Hills resident Coy Baugh preferred alternatives one and two. “We need to be represented by more than one district,” he said. “Ray’s got a lot of ground to cover, but he pays attention to us.”
Judith Mathat of Placerville was on hand, arguing for alternative three, saying, “The supervisors hate it, but we have to shame them into believing that this is this is the peoples’ map.”
A position paper she distributed states that alternative 3 would force the supervisors to make decisions based on topographical and lifestyle populations of their districts, not by developer interests or donation pockets coveted by sitting supervisors.
“It will prevent special interests, be they developers or environmentalists, from prevailing in the political process … and by including ‘slices’ of the county in each district, will force existing and future supervisors to learn the needs of the entire county.”
District 3 Supervisor Jack Sweeney has called alternative 3, which cuts his district in half, “an abomination.”
The next road show will be at the Cameron Park Community Center, 2502 Country Club Drive, at 6 p.m. on May 12.
The five alternatives will be presented to the board in June.