SACRAMENTO — By the end of the week, the political landscape of California may be substantially different than it was at the beginning.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-member group comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four “decline-to-state” voters, will release a new set of maps redrawing California’s 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.
Based on the timing of the release, just over two weeks before the Aug. 15 deadline the commission faces, those maps will likely be close to the ones that Californians will have to live with for the next 10 years, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of California Target Book, a subscription-based political analysis service.
That’s mostly good news for Santa Monica, at least in regards to its California State Senate district, said Mayor Richard Bloom.
Santa Monica falls in the 23rd district, currently served by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
Bloom and former Mayor Nathaniel Trives traveled to Sacramento in mid-July to lobby for three main Santa Monica interests in the district: Keeping Santa Monica from being divided between two districts, maintaining a connection to Malibu and ensuring that it be connected to the Santa Monica Mountains.
As of the latest map, commissioners are no longer considering the division of the city, and Malibu is included in the new district.
That last not only pleases City Hall, but also the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, whose board considered with some trepidation the consequences of splitting the district between two state senators.
The connection with the mountains — and Pavley, who lives in that area — was severed, however.
In California, state senators and assembly members must reside in the district that they represent. That is not true of members of the U.S. Congress.
The potential loss of the mountainous area means being disconnected from Santa Monica’s watershed, Bloom said.
“We are very connected through environmental initiatives since the Santa Monica Mountains are part of our watershed,” Bloom said. “Everything that happens there is very important and relates to how to keep the Santa Monica Bay clean. In addition, we’re a center for commerce in the area, and share many transportation corridors both in the Santa Monica Mountains, and in the area to our east.”
But, as Meatloaf famously sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.”
A similar shake-up seems to be in store for State Assembly District 41, a seat that is now held by outgoing Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, but for which several candidates have already thrown their hats in the ring.
According to the most recent maps, released July 19 on the wedrawthelines.ca.gov website, the district will lose much of its northern territory, which previously stretched up to Port Hueneme and Oxnard.
It now includes sections of West Hollywood, Bel Air and the area north of Sunset Boulevard.
“You could get candidates from West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu,” Hoffenblum said. “That’s a district that doesn’t have a power base.”
It is unclear what it would mean for Bloom or activist Torie Osborn, two candidates for the seat, if hopefuls Jeffrey Prang, the mayor of West Hollywood, Brian C. Johnson, a charter school chief or Andrew Lachman, a former state Senate staffer and business law teacher found themselves in the 41st.
A previous version of the maps included Marina del Rey, and therefore Democrat Betsy Butler. The newer revision leaves Butler in her original district.
There’s at least one area of relative calm, and that’s Congressman Henry Waxman’s district.
Although some feared that Santa Monica would lose its long-time representative, the newest drawings show Waxman’s congressional district keeping both Santa Monica and Malibu, and stretching down into the South Bay area, encompassing the beach cities all the way to Palos Verdes.
For the most part, its eastern borders remain the same, although the newly-envisioned district cuts out West Hollywood.
“There’s no such thing as the Westside district anymore,” Hoffenblum said.
The commission will vote on final maps on Friday, and then members of the state legislature, congressmen and prospective candidates will get a clear picture of the districts they wish to represent in 2012.
“To be faced with a district where you’ve lost a majority of support must feel like a rug being pulled out from under you,” said Jessica A. Levinson, a professor at the Loyola School of Law. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s very challenging for incumbents who find themselves in the same district as another incumbent, or in one that doesn’t play to their strengths.”
In many ways, however, that was the point of this redistricting process, which erases the old lines and for the first time in California history, strips the power of incumbent legislators to recreate their districts in their image.
California voters approved Proposition 11, which formed the 14-member, bipartisan commission, in 2008. In 2010, they completed the process with Proposition 20, which transferred the authority to create districts to the newly-approved commission.
Although some worried that an inexperienced group of unelected — and therefore, unaccountable — individuals might disenfranchise Californians by creating districts that removed duly-elected officials from office, others believed it was the only way to reform a broken system.
Previously, legislators managed to create districts in such a way that they or their parties never lost. The process, called gerrymandering, made oddly-shaped districts that resulted in few, if any, changes in the political scene.
“These are not map makers, they’re not elected, so who are they accountable to?” Levinson said. “Well, legislators may be more experienced in drawing lines, but there’s an inherent conflict of interests when they do. I prefer someone with less of a dog in the fight.”
The chosen commission fits that bill. They hail from all walks of life and careers, including one chiropractor and owner of an independent bookstore.
None have had extensive experience in something like this, said Peter Yao, a former mayor of Claremont and engineer, and one of the five Republican commissioners.
“We certainly learned a lot, not only about the geography of the state of California, but the different characteristics,” Yao said.
In the past week, the commissioners have felt a real push to get the final maps out and approved to the point that they’ve been pulling 12-hour days across weekends.
“Last week was characterized by the fact that this is the last opportunity to make any kind of major changes to the map,” Yao said.
The commission will vote on the maps Friday, but nothing will become official until Aug. 15.
Even then, the commissioners will not get to return to their daily lives, Yao said. State officials expect a number of court challenges, which must be brought within 60 days, and the commission must be available to answer them.
In the meantime, they get paid $300 for every day that they conduct commission business.
If, for whatever reason, the commission cannot decide on maps, the responsibility will fall on the California Supreme Court to find three “masters” to create the districts.
The last time the courts intervened in such a way was 1991.