Sonoma County supervisors face looming redistricting deadline
The most extensive, deepest and perhaps most consequential political redistricting process in Sonoma County history started late with delayed Census results in September and is barreling headlong toward a deadline early next month.
Some involved in the process, required by law once a decade to rebalance residents’ representation in the county’s five supervisorial districts, say it has been a rushed, incomplete and unsuccessful effort.
Others contend the redrawing of maps with an eye toward amplifying groups that may not have had their voices heard in the past, has been a long time coming and, while not perfect, is a welcome step forward.
The final map is expected to be posted on Nov. 30 and the board may formally adopt it on December 7. Any additions or changes would push back formal adoption to Dec. 14.
Last week, the five-member Sonoma County Board of Supervisors indicated it would move forward with the map endorsed by its 19-member Advisory Redistricting Commission, though the board has yet to take a formal vote.
The informal selection of the map came during a daylong meeting that drew wide-ranging public comment from those who helped draw the maps and those whose political influence may be affected by the changes.
Supervisors James Gore, Susan Gorin and Chris Coursey appeared to lean toward accepting the map the commission forwarded over others submitted by Rohnert Park and commission member and former west county Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer.
Supervisor David Rabbitt and Board Chair Lynda Hopkins said they were interested in having more discussion on other maps, but they also saw a board majority appeared to have already coalesced.
The commission’s map has been a point of controversy since its introduction in November. Some major players are unhappy because it moves the city of Rohnert Park as one entity into District 5, traditionally a coastal district, from its current split representation in Districts 2 and 3.
The changes can strengthen or weaken a group’s political sway and elevate the voice of communities among the approximately 500,000 residents of the county, which comprises 1,768 square miles of the North Bay and includes ranchland, Wine Country, seafront, forests, rivers, secret rural hideaways and several urban cores along Highway 101.
The drawing of these maps will shape elections and government decisions for the next 10 years.
A 19-member commission the county appointed worked with a paid consultant to draw new maps that comply with new federal and state mapping laws. But even some members of the commission aren’t satisfied with the final product.
Ana Horta, the commission’s vice chair, said she was happy to see the board tentatively select the map the commission forwarded after much discussion and public input.
“They said they are going to have some tweaks done, but I’m hopeful they will continue to hear the voice that aren’t always heard,” she said.
“I feel like we really did a thorough job given the amount of time we had. The outreach and the engagement, after we pushed for more, was adequate. It’s important that we really focus on equity… looking at those groups that have been marginalized in this county.”
Commssion member Koenigshofer said it was unfortunate the process was so rushed, completed in about 11 weeks, “about three or four months short” of what it should take, he said.
“It was crammed in this timeline, the most extreme redistricting the county has ever done,” he said, “with the COVID overlay of not being able to meet in person.”
Koenigshofer said, too, he was disappointed in the process, including the county’s choice of consultant, whom he called “phenomenally incompetent” for some of its early map iterations that combined vastly different communities into the same district.
“I don’t know if they don’t know or don’t care how this community functions,” he said of one particular early map. “Anyone who remotely thinks that this map is representative of communities of interest, it’s just ridiculous.”
The current preferred map also gives Rohnert Park, the county’s third largest city behind Santa Rosa and Petaluma, a different supervisor, Lynda Hopkins, instead of Chris Coursey of District 3.
Rohnert Park wanted to be in one district instead of two, and thought it should be District 3 with Santa Rosa’s central core. The city council wrote to the county to urge supervisors to choose a map with those attributes, assuming Coursey would still be their supervisor.
When Rohnert Park City Council members saw the new map with the city in District 5, they universally panned it and asked again to be moved into District 3.
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