Sonoma County supervisors adopt new map for five districts, ending rancorous redistricting process
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has concluded its contentious redistricting process by committing to a map of the county’s five districts that splits northern Santa Rosa and divides Rohnert Park, while unifying predominantly Latino neighborhoods of southwest Santa Rosa with the much of the rest of the city.
The board’s vote 4-1 Tuesday advances the map for state approval and marks the end of a highly disputed local process that saw the board diverge from its own advisory commission, sparking criticism from some panelists and creating a divide among several board members.
Supervisor Chris Coursey, a former Santa Rosa mayor and the 3rd District incumbent, remained the lone supervisor to favor the map recommended six weeks ago by the commission over the proposal first advanced by the board at its Nov. 29 meeting, to the surprise of many observers.
Coursey has echoed concerns about the limited time available for the public to comment on the board map. He also contended that breaking up northern Santa Rosa diluted what the redistricting commission “was trying to do.”
In July, the board appointed 19 civic leaders and community members to the Advisory Redistricting Commission and tasked them with collecting public input and redrawing the district boundaries to be more equitable for historically marginalized communities.
Though he voted no on the final map, Coursey said he is looking forward to working with Santa Rosa Councilman Eddie Alvarez and Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers who represent western Santa Rosa neighborhoods in the new 3rd District. He voiced his hope to explore the annexation of Moorland into Santa Rosa, building on the city’s 2017 incorporation of Roseland.
“When these district changes are official tomorrow, I look forward to representing the residents of southwest Santa Rosa. That includes many neighborhoods,” Coursey said, listing a few of them: Courtside Village, Roseland Creek, Burbank Avenue and the neighborhoods around the old Naval Air Station.
The map adopts one of the commission’s recommendations by adding Roseland and Moorland, the two predominantly Latino neighborhoods, to the 3rd District, which includes downtown Santa Rosa and most of Rohnert Park.
The remainder of Rohnert Park continues to be in the 2nd District represented by Supervisor David Rabbitt. His south county district, taking all of Cotati and Petaluma, saw the least change in the once-a-decade process triggered by the nation’s 2020 census.
Another major result of the new map is the division of northern Santa Rosa into the 5th, 4th and 1st districts — a change that some city leaders say could weaken the political potency of the county’s largest city.
The task of implementing the new district boundaries will now fall to Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters Deva Proto, Deputy County Counsel Linda Schlitgen told the board.
Pending state signoff, the new boundaries will be in effect during local elections this spring including the races for 4th and 2nd district supervisor. The incumbents, James Gore and Rabbitt, have both announced they are running for reelection.
By maintaining Rohnert Park’s split, the board rejected a recommendation from the advisory commission to move Rohnert Park as a whole into the rural 5th District, represented by Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
That recommendation, made in early November, sparked loud outcry from west county residents and Rohnert Park city leaders alike who said the city did not belong in the largely 5th District, which includes Sebastopol, the lower Russian River and the entire Sonoma Coast.
Hopkins spearheaded opposition to that map on the board, relaying concerns she said were widely shared among her constituents.
As the board pivoted away from the commission’s Rohnert Park recommendation, commission members publicly voiced concerns that the board was also abandoning the commission’s work around equity and transparency.
Nine of those panelists, all women of color, criticized the board’s abrupt move to a new map, saying it disregarded the extensive public process that went into the commission’s proposal.
All five supervisors thanked the commission members Tuesday.
“I truly hope that the ARC does not feel dismissed in this process because I don’t think this map would look anything like it looks today had they not stepped up,” said Hopkins, the outgoing board chair.
Divergent criticism from the residents and local leaders contributed to conflict between Coursey and Hopkins. Accusations of gerrymandering and talk in west county of a nascent legal challenge over redistricting led Hopkins to push for a now-controversial closed-door meeting of the board on Nov. 19, records obtained by The Press Democrat showed.
Coursey called the legal basis of that confidential meeting “bogus” and said Hopkins used it to launch a political attack on him, accusing him of rigging redistricting for his gain and her loss. Hopkins has disputed that characterization and said she made no such attack.
State and federal law requires municipalities redraw district boundaries every 10 years, coinciding with the nation’s once-a-decade census, to rebalance populations.
The changes can strengthen or weaken the political sway of neighborhoods and interest groups and empower or disempower communities that make up the county’s population of 500,000 residents.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, along with Rabbitt, Gore, and Hopkins echoed comments voiced early in the redistricting process that a perfect map would not be possible, but that the approved map, as Gore put it, “makes a lot of sense.”
“It does make as much sense as a map can,” Rabbitt said. “Map boundaries are always going to divide and have to occur in some logical place, especially in the urban environment and it’s never easy to do.”
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MurphReports.