Sonoma County supervisors face looming redistricting deadline

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has just weeks left to pick a new map outlining the county’s five districts, but is facing growing dissent between communities with competing interests.|

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.

Mayor Gerard Giudice seems to be resigned to Rohnert Park’s landing spot in the latest map.

“The redistricting committee tried to do their level best based on all the input from everyone. It was not an easy decision to make, so I appreciate that,” he said. “The supervisors did as best they could to address all of their concerns.”

Chief among those concerns were elevating the influence of predominately Latino communities in Roseland and Moorland.

Coursey has no problems with the adjustments outlined in the commission’s map and added that the commission’s recommendations “make sense” given its mission to draw up more equitable boundaries, he said in a Friday interview.

“I agree with the redistricting commission that the priorities should be merging communities that have been left out of the process for too long and that includes the Roseland and Moorland,” Coursey said.

West Sonoma County and west Santa Rosa voters elected Efren Carrillo in 2008 as the board’s first Latino member.

Hopkins strongly supports moving Roseland and Moorland into District 3, but questioned whether moving Rohnert Park into District 5 was the best way to do it.

“I understand and honor the equity goals,” Hopkins said Friday. “But I believe there are other ways to achieve that shift other than a shotgun wedding between west county and Rohnert Park.”

Some west county residents are just as dissatisfied as Rohnert Park political leaders, but for different reasons. Some feel their political influence will be overshadowed by the larger population of Rohnert Park and that their supervisor, Hopkins, may be torn trying to represent what could be vastly differing needs of her constituency.

Though a majority of the supervisors have indicated their preference for the commission’s map, the board is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss possible modifications to the district boundaries.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see additional maps over the next couple weeks,” Coursey said.

The board is scheduled to hold a final public hearing and vote on a preferred map on Dec. 7. State law requires the county select a new map by Dec. 15, leaving little room for the board to explore and analyze any map adjustments.

Some observers of the process, and even the county staff who presented the report last week, noted that the current maps do meet all the new state and federal mapping laws.

But keeping the existing maps won’t solve problems of equity among some communities that may have been overlooked in the past, Horta said.

“Change is always hard and it can be scary,” she said. “If you have populations that have been historically underrepresented and you continue to put up with that and don’t want to improve that, than the status quo is not really the best decision.”

Public outcry over the map has grown over the weeks forcing the board to contend with competing interests from Rohnert Park, coastal and rural western communities, Roseland, Moorland and the recommendations of the advisory commission.

Hundreds of calls and emails from constituents have inundated the board in past weeks. Much of the feedback has included the word “gerrymandering” from constituents worried about the lasting impact of the changes outlined in the commission’s map, according to Hopkins.

“So far, the only thing uniting the proposed future Fifth District is hatred of the proposed future Fifth District,” Hopkins said.

Concerns over gerrymandering, a tactic used to draw an electoral district to benefit a particular party or group, were first raised during a board meeting on Nov. 2 when Hopkins observed that anyone unfamiliar with the redistricting process might see the commission’s map and think the peninsula created by adding Rohnert Park to District 5 was gerrymandering.

Ed Sheffield, chair of the redistricting commission, and Horta, vice chair, were quick to caution supervisors against repeating the term “gerrymandering” as it might contribute to misinformation.

Throughout the process Sheffield has urged officials, local leaders and anyone concerned about redistricting to read the Fair Maps Act, a recent California which outlines redistricting criteria by priority. High on that list of criteria is the need to keep communities of interest, such as Roseland, intact.

A community of interest is broadly defined by something that sets it apart from neighboring places, such as a predominant language, socioeconomic status or school district jurisdiction, Sheffield said.

You can reach Staff Writers Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or and Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or

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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