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The Fight for Political Equity in Fresno County Isn't Over
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 2 years ago on
February 2, 2022

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The 2020 Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ redistricting process for mapping new boundaries ended in heated controversy and profound dissatisfaction for large numbers of residents. Frustrated over years of political neglect, many felt an urgency to address social inequities across the districts by favoring significant changes in district boundaries.

Yet if the heavy community turnout to voice preferences in the numerous proposed maps is any indication, there is wide spread interest in finally mitigating disparities in services, resources, and political representation across districts. We don’t have to wait another ten years to act.

Goal is Fair Allocation of Government Resources

Finding remedy for social inequities by centering on supervisorial districts is not a new concept.

Paul Garcia

Paul Garcia

Opinion

In 2011, the Board of Supervisors were at a stalemate on how to expand then-Supervisor Henry R. Perea’s district by 25,000 residents to balance the population. Supervisor Perea fought to incorporate an industrial manufacturing area of Malaga into his district. He argued with high unemployment, why wouldn’t we want to create a district that would focus on job creation?

In opposition, then-Supervisor Judy Case was quoted in the Fresno Bee (August 24, 2011) as saying, the goal of redistricting is to balance the population. It’s not to make strategic moves for an issue we think is important. Not only was this naïve and short-sighted, it conveyed a message that confronting inequalities across supervisorial districts is not a function of legislative processes.

Indeed, one primary purpose of the U.S. Census is to determine the fair reallocation of governmental resources and political representation.  If politics were not an inherent aspect of redistricting there would be no need to legislate priorities when mapping boundaries and the threat of gerrymandering would cease to exist.

Better Data Needed

Granted, decennial redistricting is not a sanitized unobtrusive process meant only to evenly divide the population into five districts. Redistricting is more than merely counting and sorting marbles into neat equal piles. Instead, it requires serious consideration to communities of interest within each district. But that should be the minimum. To identify the needs of the diverse communities of interest, it is imperative that the country begin to fashion an informational system that makes it easy for residents to access data that profile population trends in housing, health care, employment, transportation and land use. Issues that deeply affect their lives.

In housing, there should be such information as the number of housing vacancies, the median cost for houses, and the number of multiple family households. In health; measures should include the number of physicians per capita, pesticide poisonings and homicides. In employment; the occupational status of residents, the number of agricultural workers, average income, and unemployment rate. Infrastructure data should also be easily accessible such as the availability of public libraries, parks, and WIFI. All measures should be district based.

Equipped with a better understanding of the challenges in each supervisorial district, residents can more effectively hold their supervisor accountable. Imagine a coherent informational system shared with local city governments, business interests and community-based organizations that provides trends and projections both across and within county districts. The data can help chart annual priorities, gauge progress, identify policies and practices that work, and marshal community collaboratives and resources to target strategic goals.

Community Members Ready to Act

Much can be done to improve the living conditions for all county residents before the next U.S. Census in 2030.  For families in need of affordable housing, jobs that pay a living wage, health care in times of a pandemic, or safe neighborhoods, ten years is a lifetime. Even waiting four years to elect new supervisors is not enough. Until elected officials represent the diversity of their constituents, community members can hold up report cards to stir change. Armed with irrefutable indicators of community well-being, residents can press candidates to make real their campaign promises by giving them a yardstick.

Of course, there is always the threat of denial that disparities even exist or sheer reluctance to make change. Those factors largely explain the historical nature of the inequities. Fortunately, we already know how to alleviate many social problems. The passionate speeches and compelling arguments made at the redistricting hearings were indisputable evidence many are ready to act. Data collection and fighting for political equity should not end at Census time.

About the Author

Paul A. Garcia is a retired educator. He has written commentary pieces on education and issues that affect the Latino community. He has a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from Fresno State/UC Davis.

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