DOWNTOWN — She’s represented Santa Monica at the state level for a little over a decade, but if the proposed State Senate districts released last week by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission become permanent, Fran Pavley will no longer be able to fight for the residents of the city by the sea.

The 14-member commission, which is in the process of redrawing electoral districts, released last week a draft plan that lumps Santa Monica together with some relatively more conservative beach cities to the south instead of the north, as well as communities to the east. Since Pavley does not live in those areas, she would not be eligible to represent Santa Monica, that is, unless she decided to move in advance of the 2012 election.

“I am disappointed that under this preliminary map I would not be representing the people of Santa Monica and that the Santa Monica Mountains would be split,” Pavley said.

The draft plan also creates the possibility that Santa Monica could be represented in Congress not by veteran lawmaker Henry Waxman, D-30th District, but by a freshman — either Democrat Janice Hahn or Tea Party Republican Craig Huey, both of whom are trying to succeed former Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-36th District.

“I have long enjoyed representing Santa Monica and am disappointed that under the current draft I would no longer have that privilege,” Waxman said. “I have no control over what the commission decides, but when the final lines are drawn, I would be pleased to have the privilege of continuing to represent the citizens of Santa Monica.”

While the proposed districts are far from being finalized (the commission is conducting a series of meetings across the state to gather feedback from voters), elected officials and political pundits are already weighing in and the repercussions could be significant, from increased campaign costs to long-time allies battling against one another for fewer seats, with some voters feeling as if they have no say in who represents them — at least until the next general election.

“I am convinced that the cost of campaigning, as exorbitant as it is now, can only increase,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior fellow at the School of Policy Planning and Development at USC. “Basically, incumbents and candidates for open seats are all going to have to introduce themselves to new voters, and that costs money.”

There are those who believe redistricting will make races more competitive in the short term, but that the power of incumbency will once again reign. There is also the possibility that Santa Monica’s influence in elections could be reduced as candidates look to other influential or affluent cities like West Hollywood and those in Palos Verdes for support.

“Santa Monica has traditionally been its own district,” said Paul Mitchell, a democratic political consultant for the last 20 years who now heads Redistricting Partners, a for-profit firm that helps local governments maximize their representation during the redistricting process.

“It was Santa Monica, and, to a lesser extent, Malibu for the Assembly,” Mitchell said. “Now the [proposed] Assembly district goes out to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Before, each was a dominant force in their own districts. Now you have two heavy hitters on the progressive side in the same district rather than Santa Monica running the tables and being the most important voice.”

That said, whomever represents Santa Monica in 2012 will most likely be a progressive Democrat given the voter registration numbers on the Westside of Los Angeles County, so the change won’t be too dramatic, analysts said.

So, if that’s the case, then why make changes?

It’s that time again

Every 10 years, after the federal census, California must redraw the boundaries of its Congressional, state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts, to reflect new population data.

Previously those districts were redrawn by the legislature, leading some to cry foul. Activists claimed that the districts were drawn to benefit incumbents, creating safe zones that sometimes split communities in odd ways, and fostered little if any competition. Challengers were afraid to take on well-funded incumbents. During the campaign season In 2006, only seven of the 153 legislative and Congressional races were considered competitive, according to the Center for Governmental Studies.

A diverse coalition of nonpartisan groups including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and AARP wanted to take redistricting power out of the hands of the politicians and drafted an initiative on the November 2008 ballot. Proposition 11, known as California Voters FIRST, created the redistricting commission. The commission is comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four citizens who decline to state. The members are paid $300 for each day they are engaged in commission business.

Peter Yao is one of them. A retired engineer and former mayor of the city of Claremont, Yao said he wanted to be a member of the commission because he was concerned that the old system was disenfranchising voters.

“It wasn’t so much the redistricting itself that attracted me,” Yao said. “It was the experiment of putting a group of citizens together and allow them to study the problem and make the rules as compared to the current process of relying on elected officials to make the rules. I saw that as a conflict of interest and we all know how it has worked out.”

Redrawing districts is definitely an experiment, Yao said.

“Clearly we don’t understand everything yet,” he said. “That is why we won’t make any decisions before the process is finalized.”

Based on the current pace of work, Yao said the commission plans to have permanent districts in place by Aug. 15.

“A lot of people think we have our minds made up, but that is not the case,” he added.

Commissioners have yet to assign numbers to the proposed districts.

For more information on the commission, upcoming meetings and to see draft maps of the districts, go to wedrawthelines.ca.gov.

Looking to the future

When the districts are finally approved, Santa Monicans could see a different political landscape than what they are used to. For instance, the draft map for the state Assembly district that includes Santa Monica extends further south into Marina del Rey and further east into Griffith Park near the borders of Burbank and Glendale. Gone are Port Hueneme and parts of Oxnard as well as a large section of the Santa Monica Mountains and Calabasas.

The proposed state Senate district for Santa Monica is even more extreme. Instead of covering Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Oxnard, the draft district goes from the hills north of Santa Monica south along the coast to the small, affluent and heavily Republican city of Rolling Hills in Palos Verdes. Torrance, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach would be included — areas currently represented by Ted Lieu, D-28th District.

Pavley said she believes that some of the Senate district maps will change in the next round of draft maps and encourages people to voice their opinions to the commission.

“The commission will be holding meetings up and down the state over the next two months and I urge everyone to submit written or verbal testimony to the commissioners about the importance of keeping communities of interest intact,” she said.

Yao said his fellow commissioners are drawing the districts without regard to political incumbents and partisan considerations and have not used current district boundaries or voter registration numbers as guides moving forward. The commission is required by the act that created it to create districts of equal population size to comply with the U.S. Constitution. Districts must be contiguous so that all parts are connected to each other; districts must respect the boundaries of cities, counties, neighborhoods and communities of interest and minimize their division; districts should have a fairly regular shape; and districts cannot be drawn in such a way that they discriminate against an incumbent, candidate or political party.

A community of interest is defined as a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests. Examples of such shared interests are those common to an urban area or an agricultural area, and those common to areas in which people share similar living standards, use the same transportation facilities, have similar work opportunities, or have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process.

Naturally, some districts will be more competitive than others depending on where they are located and recent shifts in population.

“We are seeing lots of growth in the eastern parts of the state, like for instance the Inland Empire, which would traditionally have helped Republicans, but population growth in those areas has mainly come from Asians and Latinos, which tend to favor Democratic candidates,” said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform with the Center for Governmental Studies. “I think this could actually be a boon for Democrats.”

All eyes will be on the commission come August when it finalizes the districts. If the draft districts remain intact, that could have significant influence on the race to succeed Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, in the state Assembly. Betsy Butler, a democrat from District 53, located just south of Brownley’s 41st District and currently includes El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Marina del Rey and West Los Angeles, would find herself living in the 41st if the draft plan is approved. If that happens, Butler would have to decide whether or not to move back into her old district or run against activist Torie Osborn or Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom in the 41st. West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang is said to be considering a run for the Assembly and he too could find himself in the 41st, as may charter school chief Brian C. Johnson, and forrmer state Senate staffer and business law teacher Andrew Lachman.

Butler told the Daily Press that she has not yet decided on what she would do come campaign season, saying it is too premature to speculate since the commission is still at the drawing board.

“It’s out of my control,” she said. “I’ll have to go with what they give me.

“I would prefer not to have to sell my home and move. So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

A lot of people are anxiously doing just that.


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