PD Editorial: Don’t miss your chance to help draw the lines

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose their representatives. In too many places, politicians get to choose their voters.

California voters took a big step toward eliminating rank partisanship from reapportionment, the process of adjusting congressional and legislative district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes documented in the U.S. census.

Instead of elected officials with a shared goal — attaining and retaining power — the lines are drawn by a citizens’ commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. Their meetings are public and livestreamed on the internet. No more smoke-filled rooms.

The process also is playing out in all 58 counties; dozens of cities, including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Windsor, where council members are elected by district; and some school districts, including Santa Rosa, Cotati-Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa Junior College.

(However, most local redistricting commissions are advisory, with elected officials keeping the final say over their district boundaries.)

If it sounds dull, and the work seems tedious, well, it can be. But it’s too important to ignore.

The outcome of these exercises in political cartography will shape government decisions for the next 10 years. There are some basic rules — districts must be compact, keep communities of interest together and have about the same number of residents — but you can be sure that political operatives will try to influence the lines. You can have a say, too.

This past week, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins set off a frenzy of activity in the west county by suggesting the Sonoma Coast might benefit from being divided between two supervisorial districts. Environmental groups filled the board’s email boxes (and ours) with a resounding no.

Yet when Santa Rosa drew its first set of City Council districts prior to the 2018 election, business groups had the opposite perspective — submitting a proposed map that would have put parts of downtown in multiple districts.

As the differing approaches suggest, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. That’s why the process must be transparent, with ample opportunities for public participation.

The state redistricting commission, whose members include Pedro Toledo, the chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center, released its first rough drawings of possible legislative and congressional districts last week. You can see them, and post comments, here.

Their deadline to complete their work is Dec. 27, but the initial set of maps — described by the commission as “visualizations” — portends some seismic changes for the North Coast.

One of two congressional plans combines the northernmost coastal counties with inland counties in a district stretching to the Nevada border. The other retains a long coastal district but carves off Marin County, the home of Rep. Jared Huffman, into a district that crosses the Golden Gate into San Francisco. Both plans appear to separate Napa, the home of Rep. Mike Thompson, and Sonoma counties.

The result could be an open House seat in Sonoma County for the first time since 2012.

One of two state Senate plans places the homes of both local incumbents — Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa — in the same district.

For the state Assembly, one plan puts Windsor and Santa Rosa at the southern tip of a district that stretches all the way to the Oregon border, with the rest of Sonoma County combined with Marin. The other option places Sonoma County in a Marin-to-Oregon coastal district.

These lines may change, and city and county redistricting plans should be coming soon. Don’t pass up on your chance to have a say in which districts include your neighborhood. It is, after all, your government.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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