Sonoma County redistricting commissioners say Board of Supervisors abandoned their work, sidelined community outreach
Several members of a county-formed redistricting commission said Monday that when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors disregarded a proposed map unanimously supported by the 19-member commission, they devalued extensive community outreach that had prioritized equitable representation.
The criticism was first aired late Saturday in a letter signed by nine women of color who serve on the Advisory Redistricting Commission, created in February to help the county redraw its supervisorial district boundaries while infusing public input into the process.
The letter claims the Board of Supervisors “violated the meticulous, inclusive, and transparent process” undertaken by the commission when four of the county’s supervisors ‒ Lynda Hopkins, David Rabbitt, Susan Gorin and James Gore ‒ backed a new map posted by the county less than two hours before a Nov. 29 meeting.
On that day, the board had been scheduled to gather public comment and recommend modifications to a commission-backed map advanced to the board earlier last month, culminating four months of work by the appointed panel.
Now, supervisors are set to hold a public hearing on their new proposed map Tuesday, where they'll hear public comment and potentially hold a final vote. The board also could post a map with changes and make a decision on Dec. 14, one day before the state's deadline.
Stephanie Manieri, a member of the Advisory Redistricting Commission who signed the Saturday letter, said the statement was intended to highlight steps the commission took to make sure its map represented Sonoma County in an equitable way.
The process included gathering input from historically marginalized communities and creating a map that met federal and state guidelines, the letter said.
The county, however, failed to take those same steps when it selected the new map, the letter said. Drawing that new map at the Nov. 29 meeting, the letter added, may have violated the Brown Act, the state law that requires local governments to conduct public business in public, with advance notification about board agendas.
“The Board of Supervisors is choosing to go with a map that is no where near what was originally recommended and presented, and that is an equity issue,” said Manieri.
The letter is the latest chapter in what has been a tumultuous political process to redraw boundaries for the the county’s five supervisorial districts. The step is required by state and federal law every 10 years to achieve population balance documented by the nation’s decennial census.
Historically, such recommendations were made by the sheriff, district attorney and the county’s Clerk-Recorder-Assessor and then approved by the board, though changes to California law that went into effect last year allowed counties to create advisory redistricting commissions similar to the one created in Sonoma County.
While the new redistricting model was intended to involve community input in Sonoma County, where county supervisors have established racial equity as a pillar of its strategic plan, the process has been fraught for those who have participated in the commission.
The letter alleged that commissioners of color have faced microaggressions from county staff and consultants during the course of their work, though the letter’s signatories declined to elaborate on those complaints Monday in interviews. Microaggressions are comments or actions, often subtle, that communicate hostility or lack of respect toward marginalized groups.
To read the letter, click here: Redistricting Letter.pdf
Lyndsey Burcina, one of the commissioners, said she was “extremely frustrated” by the process, one that required a tremendous time commitment and had short deadlines without fair compensation.
“And then it was like, the Board of Supervisors just said no,” Burcina said of board’s decision to favor the new map over the one recommended by the commission.
Ana Horta, a Santa Rosa-based commissioner, said the process was “extremely rushed” and that a county consultant unfamiliar with the area slowed the work further.
Horta felt she and other commissioners had been tapped because of their connections, but the resulting produce was ultimately disregarded, she said.
“We were ambassadors and went into the community that trusted us and reached out to engage them in that process and then to have things turn around and change in this way is just shocking,” she said.
In response, Hopkins, the Board of Supervisors chair, said she admired the women who had written the letter but felt a shortened timeline ‒ driven by delayed delivery of census data ‒ did not leave the commission time to navigate the wide variety of challenges presented by redistricting.
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