SACRAMENTO — The Citizens Redistricting Commission released final versions of state and federal congressional districts Friday, laying waste to the careful planning done by the legislature 10 years ago that resulted in only one congressional district flipping parties in the last decade.
The new maps redefine the 177 state Senate, Assembly, congressional and Board of Equalization districts that divide California voters, a process done every decade, although traditionally by legislators who gerrymander seats to maintain power in their districts.
This is the first time, however, that a 14-member commission of unelected citizens has undertaken the task, a process created during the 2008 election when California voters passed Proposition 11, and empowered in 2010 with Proposition 20.
The results have been quite different, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, a subscription-based political analysis service.
“As far as the Republicans go, Democrats would have done anything they could to wipe out the Republican Party,” Hoffenblum said. Instead, Republicans actually have a chance to pick up a few seats.
While many analysts agree that the new maps are likely to create more competitive elections by putting some long-time politicians in the same district and leaving others without an incumbent coming into the general elections of 2012 and 2014, the new districts also hurt some communities’ chances of maintaining political equilibrium.
The most dramatic differences for Santa Monica politics come in the new lines drawn around the state Senate seat, currently held by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
The new district completely separates Santa Monica from both the Santa Monica Mountains, with which it shares a watershed and various environmental initiatives, as well as Malibu, where 18 percent of students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District attend classes.
The Board of Education voted to submit a letter to the redistricting commission in an attempt to prevent just such an outcome, citing the need to maintain a “united voice and an ongoing strong relationship that allows the district to continue to improve student achievement and educational experiences.”
The letter further stated that splitting the district between two state Senate districts could hurt the district’s ability to keep a good working relationship with both city governments, and create confusion for voters.
Mayor Richard Bloom and former mayor Nathaniel Trives journeyed to Sacramento in mid-July to argue against the division of Santa Monica, Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains, as well as a plan to divide Santa Monica itself between two districts.
While they succeeded in many of those aims, Bloom was disappointed by the separation of Santa Monica from its northwest neighbors.
It wasn’t all bad news, however.
“From the perspective of Santa Monica, generally speaking, and in terms of the issues that the City Council has been concerned about, we were able to in all likelihood retain a district that is favorable to Congressman (Henry) Waxman. We’re pleased about that,” Bloom said.
Indeed, the congressional district did not change much from a draft released last week to the proposed final drafts put out Friday, but they are a huge departure from the district that exists today.
Rather than a wide, squat district that encompassed West Hollywood to the east, past Malibu to the northwest, Calabasas to the north and Santa Monica to the south, Waxman now shares space with fellow incumbent Adam Schiff in a district that runs west to Leo Carrillo State Beach, grabs Beverly Hills and runs in a thin strip down the coastline all the way to Palos Verdes.
West Hollywood is completely cut out.
On the state Assembly side of things, the district will expand west to encompass West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Previously, it stretched further north, up into Oxnard.
Bloom, who announced that he would be running for the seat, said that he is fully comfortable with the new district.
“In fact, there are some areas that we’ve lost in the assembly district, notably Calabasas and Agoura (Hills), but we retained Malibu, Pacific Palisades and added Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. For me, these are all communities I’m very familiar with,” Bloom said.
The inclusion of West Hollywood opens the competitive floodgates, however, by adding WeHo Mayor Jeffrey Prang into the 41st District melee.
It might be a good testing ground for yet another California measure, which allows the top two vote getters to compete in elections, rather than the top vote getter from each party.
The district swings heavily Democratic, and could give Republican voters a chance to vote for a pro-business Democrat that has a chance of winning rather than wasting a vote on a Republican, Hoffenblum said.
Although the maps are being hailed as “final,” there’s still a two-week window that closes Aug. 15 for members of the public to comment.
Redistricting Commissioner Maria Blanco, of Los Angeles, said that the public has not been shy so far in expressing their opinions of the process.
“We’ve received over 20,000 written comments. People have spoken to us through the press,” Blanco said in a press conference. “We have received a lot of public comment.”
Those who want to weigh in on the new maps can do so at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.