After criticism of the process to redraw Fresno County electoral districts last year, one state legislator now wants to change the process.
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, proposed AB 2030 which would create an independent commission to draw lines for the county’s five supervisor seats.
“Fresno County must have an independent citizens redistricting commission that will seriously listen to the voices of people demanding representation that truly reflects their communities and will address their issues. Our county is changing, and Latinos now make up the majority of the population. We can no longer tolerate a process in which elected officials give lip service to following redistricting requirements, ignore public input, and then adopt a map that serves their purposes. This change is long overdue,” Arambula said in a statement.
Supervisor boundaries are examined every ten years based on U.S. Census data. Lines are adjusted to ensure roughly equal population for all five supervisor districts. Districts must also be drawn to allow for fair representation of ethnic minority groups to chose their own representative.
Supervisor Buddy Mendes, R-Riverdale, disagrees with the proposal. He says the current system giving supervisors the power to draw the lines works best.
“This is more insanity. There is no such thing as an independent commission. This is horsesh**!” Mendes told GV Wire. “Every time you take away from local control, you get chaos.”
The bill, introduced on Monday, has not had a committee hearing scheduled.
Advocates Upset Over Most Recent Process
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors approved updated district boundaries last December that changed the current lines very slightly. Advocacy groups complained about the fairness of the map, especially of the shape of District 4 represented by Mendes.
An alternate proposal supported by the Dolores Huerta Foundation would have drawn District 4 roughly around Highway 41. Instead, the chosen map kept District 4 mostly the same, expanding from the county line in the west to Orange Cove in the east.
Advocates also complained that the supervisors get to pick their own lines. The board created an advisory committee that vetted maps submitted by the public and the county’s contracted demographics firm. Some of the meetings were tense, with arguments seemingly divided on partisan lines.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation, and its namesake Dolores Huerta, have publicly supported Arambula’s bill.
Pedro Navarro Cruz, a community organizer with Communities for a New California Education Fund, also supports the bill.
“This is a better process to shake up the status quo, because that’s what ends up happening … Whenever elected officials are in power, they have the ultimate decision and they’re going to look to to benefit their party more than anything,” Navarro Cruz said. “Anything with an independent commission with redistricting is at any level is a great thing.”
Mendes Opposes Plan
Mendes, one of the more outspoken of the five supervisors, finds Arambula’s system dubious.
“They don’t like the makeup of the current Board of Supervisors. They can’t change (it) at the ballot box, so they will attempt to gerrymander,” Mendes said. “The current system is fair. We had as many reach out to us who like it, as dislike it.”
This would be the second piece legislation by Arambula aimed at changing a government body. Last year, the state legislature passed a bill to alter how the San Joaquin River Conservancy board is selected. The changes allow more public advocacy groups to have a say on the board. It went into effect on Jan. 1.
State, Some Counties Use Independent Commissions
Arambula’s plan for Fresno County is somewhat based on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Passed by voters in 2008, the commission has drawn lines for Congress, Assembly, state Senate and the Board of Equalization following the 2010 and 2020 censuses.
Four counties also use independent commissions, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, according to the advocacy group Common Cause. An additional 15 California cities also use independent commissions, including Sacramento and Oakland.
San Francisco County’s commission is in the city/county charger; Santa Barbara County’s commission was established by a vote of the electorate.
There is also similar legislation to create an independent commission in Riverside County advancing in the state assembly.
How Arambula’s Plan Would Work
Under Arambula’s plan, a 14-member independent commission would have the power to draw the district lines for seats on the Board of Supervisors. The commission would be in place by the end of 2030.
The membership “shall be as proportional as possible” to the county’s voter registration breakdown. Based on current registration data, membership would be 6 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 2 no party preference and one from another party if the commission were in place today.
There are several criteria that would be used to determine who could be a board member. “The county elections official” would vet applicants based on a series of qualifications built into the law. A random draw would select eight members who meet the qualifications.
Five names would be selected from a pool from each of the five supervisor districts to guarantee at least one resident per district would serve. Three more names would be selected from a countywide pool.
The remaining eight members would then select the other six.
The selection slightly differs from the state redistricting commission. The partisan makeup is fixed at five Democrats, five Republicans and four no party preference. There is no requirement that a particular area of the state is represented.
AB 2030 would also bar anyone holding or running for public office, family members of those running or holding office, employees or consultants of those running or holding office from serving on the commission.
Alex Tavlian, a political consultant to several Fresno County supervisors and and online news publisher, submitted a map that was ultimately the basis for the recommendation of the advisory committee and later adopted by the board. Under Arambula’s plan, Tavlian would not be eligible to serve on the independent commission.
The proposed law would also bar commissioners from holding elected office for five years after their service. Commissioners cold not work as a staffer or consultant for three years.