Pedro Toledo, Petaluma health care official, named to state redistricting panel
A Petaluma health care administrator is one of 14 citizens tasked with redrawing the boundaries for California’s federal and state legislative districts in a process that prompted questions over the panel’s ethnic makeup.
Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center, is one of four Latinos appointed to the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission that also includes four Asians, three whites and three Blacks.
He was passed over in the first round of the selection process in which eight members were chosen at random in a lottery conducted by state Auditor Elaine Howle last month that selected all the whites and Blacks, half of the Asians and no Latinos.
California Common Cause, a government watchdog group, said that defied the odds it calculated at 90% that at least one Latino’s name would be drawn.
“It was an improbable result,” Toledo said.
On Aug. 7, the eight commissioners, charged with picking the final six members, named Toledo, three Latinas and two Asian members.
Still, two Latino political leaders said the commission failed to match California’s demographic makeup and specifically underrepresented Latinos, the state’s largest ethnic group accounting for 39% of the population but just 29% of the commission.
“We shouldn’t have to beg for a spot at the table,” former Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, told the Sacramento Bee. “The fact that 40% of the population could have so easily been omitted is not acceptable.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said the number of Latinos on the commission was an improvement but still lacked full proportionality.
In fact, both whites and Latinos ‒ the state’s dominant ethnic groups ‒ are numerically underrepresented while Asians and Blacks are overrepresented.
Latinos and Asians, both with four commission seats, each account for 29% of the commission, while Latinos are 39% and Asians just 15% of the population. Whites (37% of the population) and Blacks (6%) both hold three seats equal to 21% of the commission.
“All of these issues are touchy,” said Toledo, a former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County. “What’s important is that all of us represent the state of California.”
“It’s still not equal representation (for Latinos) in terms of the population,” he said. “Although it’s much better than 0%.”
Common Cause executive director Jonathan Mehta Stein complimented the board’s first eight members for “building a commission that looked a lot like California,” including ethnic minorities, LGBTQ members and people with disabilities.
But Stein also noted that Latinos were underrepresented in the pool of applicants “from the very beginning.”
“We absolutely could still do better,” he said.
State law requires the commission to consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four who are in neither major party, but it sets no standard for ethnicity. Toledo is a no-party-preference registrant.
The National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund, a nonpartisan organization, called for the appointment of Toledo and Linda Akutagawa, who is Asian.
Herman J. Hernandez of Guerneville said he endorsed Toledo both as a member of the national organization and as founder of Los Cien, the local Latino leadership group.
“He’s a sharp guy,” Hernandez said, noting Toledo’s academic background ‒ four college degrees from Stanford, Cornell and Georgetown University ‒ and leadership of the Petaluma Health Center.
“He understands the community,” Hernandez said. “He inspires me.”
Toledo, 42, the son of a Mexican immigrant, said he was humbled by the widespread support sent to the commission on his behalf.
The commission’s job, which involves statewide community outreach, will be complicated this year by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Commissioners, who are paid $375 per working day, plus expenses, have until Aug. 15, 2021, to draw maps for congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts.
They also will map districts for the five state Board of Equalization members who deal with tax matters.
District lines are revised once 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 16 states that have independent redistricting commissions, and only two — California and Michigan — exclude politicians from selecting the members and approving their work, according to Common Cause.
The use of citizen commissions has grown substantially in recent years in an attempt to limit gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to benefit one party or class.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.