By Jayme Ackemann
Santa Cruz County is going through a redistricting process. Is anyone paying attention?
If you check out the scant feedback the county has already received you will notice one thing: Three of the five comments submitted, as of this writing, are from Scotts Valley residents interested in moving out of District One and into District Five, San Lorenzo Valley’s district.
Scotts Valley is divided into two supervisorial districts. Communities on “the Branciforte side” of Highway 17 are considered part of District One overseen by Supervisor Manu Koenig, and the communities on the west side of the highway are part of Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s District. District Five also includes an interesting little peninsula that stretches into the Mission Hill neighborhood in Santa Cruz.
The consensus of those Scotts Valley residents is that they would prefer to be unified under the Fifth District Supervisor.
But community preference isn’t the only consideration for commissioners as they review options for changing district boundaries.
The County hasn’t been subject to the kind of gerrymanders some hyper partisan communities have a reputation for carving out. The third district that snakes its way through the middle of Maryland probably deserves that distinction.
But that’s not to say we don’t tinker around the edges in a way that occasionally raises eyebrows in this county.
And there are clear guidelines that Santa Cruz County’s Advisory Redistricting Commissioners (ARC 21) are asked to think about as they review the 2020 census data that might affect where county district lines are drawn.
Those guidelines include requirements that the districts must be contiguous, so that they don’t look like the Maryland “snake,” and they must have roughly equal populations.
And that’s where the impacts become tangible for the Fifth District. According to the mapping data, which is still being finalized, the Fifth District may be short by 2,000 people and District Three — Ryan Coonerty’s District — may be over by roughly 2,000 people.
“We still don’t have the final mapping to see how moving various census blocks around would actually affect the district,” said James Mosher, District Five Redistricting Commissioner and Felton resident.
This leaves more questions than answers for Santa Cruz City Councilperson and District Three Supervisorial Candidate Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson as she considers whether those 2,000 residents living in the Bonny Doon area might stay in District Three or be consolidated into a mountain district as part of the Fifth.
“One of the things I’ve picked up is that geographic communities of interest want to stick together,” Kalantari-Johnson observed about the considerations affecting these communities. She added, “How would a move impact fire recovery efforts already underway?”
Your Comments Needed
There are three possible proposals that are likely to affect San Lorenzo Valley’s District:
● Add communities near UCSC and Bonny Doon to District Five to balance the populations of Districts 3 & 5.
● “Do Nothing” — Populations in each district may be within plus or minus 5 percentage points of one another. The 2,000 person difference is within the margin of error and therefore no change is required.
● Add the rest of Scotts Valley to District Five — The problem with this is that it creates more imbalance with other districts. District One, which is currently in proper balance, would then be short roughly 2,000 residents.
It makes some sense to add Bonny Doon residents to District Five, if any change must be made, because ours clearly are “communities of concern” and share similar geographic features. This move also leaves the other districts in balance without creating a “domino” effect.
As the population differences between districts are within the margin of error, there’s also an argument for leaving the boundaries of each as they are. And it seems hard to accept the Scotts Valley argument that its residents should be consolidated under one district without considering the other downstream implications of that move.
District Five residents should submit their comments and preferred options at the link below: santacruzcounty.us/Redistricting2021/CommunitiesofInterest.aspx
The window for public feedback on the process is tight — public hearings with the commission and the County Board of Supervisors will be scheduled in October and November for final consideration. Meeting details are posted on the Redistricting website: santacruzcounty.us/Redistricting2021.aspx
Jayme Ackemann is a member of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board of Directors and Chair of the San Lorenzo Valley Community Council Steering Committee. She has spent decades working on transportation, water, housing, and social issues in communities throughout the Bay Area. Jayme has been a resident of Ben Lomond for more than 15 years.
Featured image of the five Santa Cruz County supervisorial districts from santacruzcounty.us.