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Two Petaluma residents finalists for state redistricting panel

Two Petaluma residents are in the running for selection Thursday to the 14-member panel that will redraw the boundaries for California’s federal and state legislative districts.

Karla Van Meter, a retired statistical epidemiologist, and Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center, are among the final pool of 35 applicants for the Citizens Redistricting Commission that took the political map drawing out of elected officials’ hands a decade ago.

State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose office manages the selection process, will hold a raffle drum drawing of the names of the first eight members of what will be the second independent redistricting body in state history.

Those eight members will select the remaining six commissioners, with members paid $375 per working day, plus expenses, to draw maps for congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts by an Aug. 15, 2021, deadline.

They will also draw districts for five state Board of Equalization members who deal with tax matters.

Van Meter, a 70-year-old Republican, said she submitted one of the initial 20,724 commission applications as a retirement pursuit after leaving the California Department of Public Health two years ago.

“I don’t want to just spend all my time fixing my garden,” she said. “This is demographic analysis, which is what I’ve been doing.”

“It’s important to get the districts right,” Van Meter said, adding she intends to “follow the law” in drawing the lines.

Toledo, 42, said he was “deeply committed to ensuring that all citizens have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the electoral process.”

Toledo, a former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a Redwood Empire Food Bank board member, attributed his civic engagement to his late father, also named Pedro Toledo, who came from Mexico under the Bracero program in the 1950s, worked in the fields and then as a chef and always voted after becoming a citizen in the 1980s.

His father also stressed education, prompting Toledo to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Stanford, a law degree at Cornell University and a master’s degree in health care administration in April from Georgetown University.

District lines are revised every 10 years, using the latest U.S. Census results, to comply with federal standards that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

California is one of 17 states that have incorporated independent commissions in the redistricting process, according to an Associated Press report.

The nationwide movement reflects a rejection of the gerrymandering practiced for years by elected officials to secure their jobs and in some cases disenfranchise minority voters.

After incumbent parties retained every single state Assembly, Senate and congressional seat in the 2004 election, California voters approved ballot measures in 2008 and 2010 approving the citizens commission's power to draw district boundaries.

The only role California lawmakers have in the process comes after three state auditors conduct interviews and winnow the field of applicants down to 60. The top two leaders of both parties in the Senate and Assembly each gets to strike six applicants, paring the field to 36 — one fewer this year because a Democrat withdrew during the process.

The final commission must consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four who are in neither major party.

Van Meter, who earned a doctorate degree in epidemiology at UC Davis in 2008, said she hadn’t “looked in any detail” at the current district lines because she was “waiting to see if I got the job.”

She has not served on any Republican Party committees or campaigns. “I vote,” she said, describing her political activity.

The commission seemed appropriate as a temporary retirement job “because it has a distinct end date,” she said.

Toledo, who is registered as a no party preference voter, said he has learned in the health care field that “you have to work with everybody, you have to listen to everybody.”

Political boundaries “must not be drawn in a manner that disengages people so they feel their voices aren’t being heard,” he said.

“What we want to do is empower all the people of California, and it’s not an easy job,” Toledo said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to correct the spelling of State Auditor Elaine Howle’s last name, as well as to correct the age of Karla Van Meter and the amount of the daily stipend paid to members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

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