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Sonoma County supervisors consider splitting downtown Santa Rosa in new redistricting map

Just a week left before its December deadline, the Board of Supervisors is poised to adopt a new redistricting map that would split Rohnert Park and downtown Santa Rosa|

After a day-long, emotionally charged meeting Monday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors appeared poised to support a new county district map that splits Rohnert Park and downtown Santa Rosa.

The map, drawn up during the board’s redistricting workshop, divides downtown Santa Rosa along the Highway 101 corridor, moving much of northwest Santa Rosa, including Santa Rosa Junior College and Railroad Square, into the 5th District represented by Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, the current board chair.

The 3rd District, represented by Supervisor Chris Coursey, picks up all of southwest Santa Rosa, including Roseland and Moorland, and keeps much of Rohnert Park — a deviation from the Advisory Redistricting Commission’s map, which unified Rohnert Park in the 5th district.

Presently, Rohnert Park is split between the 3rd and 2nd districts.

Monday’s map, which could be formally approved by the board Dec. 7, is the latest shift in supervisors’ weekslong attempt to redraw district boundaries while juggling the competing concerns of existing constituents and potential ones, as well as recommendations from its advisory commission and the board’s own commitment to making the districts more equitable for historically marginalized communities.

The drawing of these boundaries, triggered by the nation’s once-a-decade census, will shape elections and government decisions for the next 10 years. 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.

On Monday, 90 minutes before the board’s virtual workshop, county staff posted three new redistricting maps on the county’s website.

Officials explained that the new maps used the advisory commission’s proposed map as a base, and also incorporated requests supervisors made during the board’s Nov. 16 meeting.

One map, called d84750 Cleanup, was quickly scrapped Monday after the consulting demographer acknowledged it was the product of a sample map Hopkins submitted over the weekend.

Hopkins described it as “chicken scratches” she’d made to illustrate suggestions for the demographer to incorporate into a map, but she said she never meant for it to come before the board as an option.

Of the two other new maps before the board on Monday, one split Rohnert Park and downtown Santa Rosa, while the other — a revised version of the commission’s map — moved Rohnert Park into the 5th District, but limited the 3rd District to solely encompass Santa Rosa.

All three maps moved Roseland and Moorland into the 3rd — a recommendation from the commission that has emerged as a key goal of the redistricting effort.

While supervisors agreed upon the need to move Roseland and Moorland into the 3rd, Monday’s discussion revealed heightened tensions and a lingering inability to reach consensus.

Hopkins, along with supervisors David Rabbitt, Susan Gorin and James Gore all indicated preference for the map splitting Rohnert Park.

The four supervisors said this map best addressed the concerns of Rohnert Park and west county residents, who contend their two groups lack commonalities and therefore should not be in the same district. Coupled with that pushback, is the need for the county to maintain even population among the five districts.

“Of these three maps, it’s going to be that Rohnert Park split that really, I think, answers that question the best,” Rabbitt said.

On Monday, Coursey emerged as the only one to support the map that would move Rohnert Park as a whole into the 5th district.

“It’s based on a map that’s been out in the community for more than a month, not a map that’s been out there for less than half a day,” Coursey said.

The board will hold a public hearing on Dec. 7 to collect public comment on the split Rohnert Park map. It also intends to take a vote on a final map during that meeting, which would leave just a week for the public to review and comment on the map.

In addition to his concerns about maintaining a transparent process that allows for adequate public comment, Coursey also raised concerns that splitting downtown Santa Rosa would divide a community of interest and therefore go against California’s redistricting criteria.

“This is a significant change that has not been discussed in the community and I believe this is a community of interest,” he added.

Echoing Coursey, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers said it would be a mistake to split the downtown into two districts and could hurt the city’s ability to coordinate initiatives on affordable housing.

Rogers lambasted the supervisors’ introduction of a new map that had not been publicly available before Monday’s meeting. That new map, he said, undoes months of public process and leaves downtown Santa Rosa residents without the chance to weigh in.

“If you told us that downtown would have emerged from today being divided the way it is I can pretty much guarantee that constituents would have called in, attended the meeting and sent emails and letters,” Rogers said.

“There’s an overwhelming feeling from portions of our community that their participation doesn’t matter and I would just ask how did months of participation from those communities result in this map,” he said.

Renewed calls for the board to support the commission’s map dominated public comment Monday, with some comments alluding to accusations of political maneuvering and discord that have been flying behind the scenes in recent weeks.

Some speakers told the board, a decision to go with any map other than the one recommended by the commission would be seen as wasting the time of the commissioners and residents who are participating in the redistricting process.

“Unfortunately, you have decided to diminish the work of the commission for your own political motivations,” Advisory Redistricting Commissioner Ana Lugo told the board.

Hopkins responded to the criticisms, noting that supervisors have heard from “hundreds and hundreds of residents” the commission had not heard from during its process.

“There’s no intention by any of us to denigrate or disrespect the work of the ARC here,” Hopkins said.

Staff Writer Andrew Graham contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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