A visualization of the current State Assembly 29 district lines a hypothetical map of new district lines in turquoise
A visualization of the current State Assembly 29 district lines in green and a hypothetical map of new district lines in turquoise, produced by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission for meetings held Nov. 7-9, 2021.
(California Citizens Redistricting Commission)

Whose line is it anyway? A closer look at redistricting proposals and their impacts on Santa Cruz County

Redrawing, or redistricting, of electoral maps is happening at several levels that affect Santa Cruz County residents: the Board of Supervisors, U.S. Congress, State Senate and State Assembly. Two groups are responsible for deciding how to draw the lines for these district maps: the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and the county’s Advisory Redistricting Commission.

Though many might be only vaguely aware of it, everyone’s home address sits on a complex web of electoral districts, a set of different maps for various elected offices.

At a minimum, residents in Santa Cruz County have a supervisorial district, a state senate district, a state assembly district, and a U.S. Congress district. Each of these district maps are drawn so the number of people in each area are roughly the same as other districts of the same type. So Assembly District 29 — which includes Santa Cruz County — has the same number of people as Assembly District 28, which includes Campbell, Los Gatos and part of San Jose.

But because state senate districts are larger, the maps are different, meaning that you and your neighbor might have the same assemblyperson, but different state senators — or supervisors or members of Congress.

Making things more confusing, those district maps will all be changing based on new population figures from the U.S. Census, which were delayed due to COVID-19. Decisions on where the new lines will be drawn are currently underway.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is creating new maps for U.S. congressional districts and the State Senate and State Assembly districts. It had said it might release preliminary maps for those districts Wednesday, though its deadline isn’t until Monday. Certification of the new maps, however, is not due until Dec. 27.

At the county level, the Advisory Redistricting Commission is creating new district maps for the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ five supervisorial districts. The board, which has held numerous public meetings on the subject, is scheduled to finalize its new maps Tuesday.

Electoral maps, which are drawn based on a variety of factors including population, have significant implications for how communities elect representatives, how they raise money for candidates and how they fight for shared interests.

“The redistricting process at every level of government is always important,” Santa Cruz Supervisor Ryan Coonerty told Lookout after a Tuesday board meeting.

Here’s a closer look at the process and how it might affect your local representation.

Where the county’s supervisorial districts stand

During their Tuesday meeting, the Board of Supervisors received an update on plans for the new district maps for the board’s districts. They also held the third of four planned public meetings to receive input from community members.

The board voted 4-1, with Coonerty dissenting, to direct staff to write a resolution or ordinance establishing the supervisorial boundaries.

Coonerty said while the proposals would largely maintain the current supervisorial district maps, he was concerned about how the changes, though subtle, could affect the districts. One proposal would essentially put Scotts Valley all in one district.

“Every time you change something, it potentially changes other districts,” he said. “And I wanted to have a better understanding of what those changes would be and have a little more process before we brought only those choices back.”

However, the majority voted to approve the plans and the commission’s recommendations will be considered for final adoption Tuesday at their next meeting. To review the maps, click here.

In addition to the change affecting Scotts Valley, proposed changes could also impact the Apple Hill neighborhood in Watsonville, the East Harbor neighborhoods in Santa Cruz, the Midtown area of Santa Cruz between Harbor High School and Branciforte Middle School.

How the state, federal levels are affected

In addition to accepting the county commission’s updates for the supervisorial districts, the Board of Supervisors — which has no authority or role in the redistricting of state and federal maps — voted to write a letter to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission regarding their concerns on the commission’s drafts for new district lines.

During the redistricting commission’s meeting on Wednesday, commissioners heard concerns about its plans from members of the public from across the state. Following the public comment, they approved preliminary drafts of the new district lines, while emphasizing that they are approving the maps only as drafts and they will continue to receive input and improve the plans.

By recommendation from Board Chair Bruce McPherson, the board will write a letter to the commissioners to request to keep Monterey Bay-area cities in the same districts. The drafts posted online thus far would change the district lines for the congressional, state assembly and state senate districts to varying degrees from their current lines.

Several Monterey Bay are residents are also concerned about proposals that would place Santa Cruz in a different district than other parts of the region, according to public comments submitted to the commission.

“Please reconsider the redistricting considerations for Assembly District VAD_SMATEO_1027 that exclude the City of Santa Cruz from the other Monterey Bay shore cities,” wrote Hilary Hamm in the commission’s online public comments. “Please ensure that all cities that share the Monterey Bay shore are in the same Congressional, Senate and Assembly Districts. We share air, ocean, power and transportation, and need to have unified representation to address our community needs.”

A former member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and Capitola resident Vince Barabba told Lookout that one of the most important factors the commission has to consider when redistricting is keeping “communities of interest” in the same district. For Barabba, the counties in the Monterey Bay region make up a community of interest — an area that has shared economic and social interests, such as an urban or rural area, or an area that has shared living standards.

He was part of the state’s first redistricting commission 10 years ago, after California voters passed a ballot measure in 2008 granting the power to an independent commission as opposed to the state legislature.

“And if you look at some of the districts that we drew, we always made sure that those counties that were related to the [Monterey] bay, were connected somehow through those districts,” he said.

He added that the best way for the commissioners to ensure they maintain communities of interest within the same district is to visit those communities.

“It’s a real tough job,” he said.