Santa Rosa releases possible electoral districts

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Check out the maps

The interactive tool to help residents view the maps is located on the city website. It can be viewed here.

PDF: City of Santa Rosa 2018 Districting Maps and Demographics

The prospect of chopping Santa Rosa up into seven electoral districts has been a largely academic exercise — until now.

The city this week released 28 detailed maps of possible districts for the public to consider in advance of a key City Council meeting this Tuesday.

The maps and accompanying demographic information about each provide the public its first real opportunity to focus on what Santa Rosa’s political landscape might look like for generations to come.

“The initial hearings involved very theoretical and abstract ideas about districts,” said Douglas Johnson, president of National Demographics Corp., which is working with the city. “Now it really gets real.”

The council decided, in the face of a lawsuit, to switch the city to district elections beginning in November 2018. But figuring out how to make the switch in a way that is both legal and fair to residents and existing council members is proving thorny.

The lawsuit claimed that Latino voters have been disenfranchised by racially polarized voting patterns under citywide elections. Switching to districts would theoretically make it easier for neighborhoods with large Latino populations to elect their preferred candidates to office.

The shape of the districts could have a huge impact not only on whether the effort to give Latinos a larger voice in city elections succeeds, but whether existing council members can continue serving — and whether they might have to take on one of their colleagues to keep their seats.

How the districts are drawn has been closely watched by insiders, but it hasn’t yet become a broader community conversation.

That may soon change if residents of Coffey Park find themselves about to be lumped in with Fountaingrove; or Roseland residents see their area linked with other Latino strongholds like South Park; or if only one council member might represent the economically influential downtown area.

Johnson encourages residents to take a look at the maps, think about what’s important to them in the representation of their neighborhood, and let the council know what they think.

To make it easier for residents to view and understand the 28 maps and the underlying demographic data about each, his firm has created an interactive tool located on the city website.

Johnson said he and his colleagues will soon start narrowing down the maps to a more manageable number.

“It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around when you have 28 maps,” he said.

But once it’s down to a handful of maps that represent different themes — such as how many council seats should the west side of the city have, or whether Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, both of which burned badly in the October fires, should be represented by a single seat — it will be easier to think about, Johnson said.

Vice Mayor Chris Rogers said he found some of the maps thought provoking.

“Once you have the maps and the things that people like and dislike about the maps, it’s a little easier to visualize the impact on the community,” Rogers said.

The city has been divided up for a long time based on man-made boundaries, such as Highways 101 and 12, and some of the maps created an opportunity for the city to break out of those silos, Rogers said.

Check out the maps

The interactive tool to help residents view the maps is located on the city website. It can be viewed here.

PDF: City of Santa Rosa 2018 Districting Maps and Demographics

But Rogers said he cares more about when each district will be up for election than what they look like.

The city charter calls for seven members serving four-year terms, and the current council members have a right to serve out their terms, City Attorney Sue Gallagher has said. That means three council seats will be up in 2018 and the other four in 2020.

But which seats will be up this year and which in 2020?

That’s one of the key challenges facing council members, who don’t want to be seen as acting in self-interest. Nor, however, does Johnson, the city’s demographer, recommend randomly picking districts, arguing that voters should decide which representatives stay in office, not the boundary-drawing process.

One key issue continues to be when the 7,000 residents of the heavily Latino Roseland neighborhood, which was annexed into the city last year, will get a chance to vote for their council member.

None of the three council members whose terms are up in 2018 and presumably interested in re-election live anywhere near Roseland. Mayor Chris Coursey lives in central Santa Rosa, Council member John Sawyer lives in the southeast, and Tom Schwedhelm lives in the northwest.

If the districts where they live are put up for election in 2018, they can all run again, and Roseland and the other four districts will have to wait until 2020.

Veteran political consultant Terry Price said he certainly could understand how Roseland residents, having lacked a vote in city affairs for so long, would want to vote for a representative this year.

But Price argued that waiting until 2020 would sync up the selection of the Roseland council seat with presidential elections, ensuring voter turnout in the neighborhood would be significantly higher for all future contests.

If that affects incumbents, so be it, he said.

“Doing it the right way is going to have an impact on other incumbents and other candidates,” Price said. “No doubt about it.”

The interactive tool to help residents view the maps is located on the city website. It can be viewed here: http://www.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=3345499366a749718493b88f4c8006fd

After the March 13 meeting, a subset of the maps will be discussed March 27, with the council set to decide on a final district on April 10.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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