Supervisor Adrienne Tissier
As the process of redrawing the supervisorial district maps draws to a close, members of the recommending committee are sure of one thing — somebody isn’t going to be satisfied.
“The hard part is someone is not going to be happy. It’s a no-win situation,” said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, who chairs the District Lines Advisory Committee. “Even if we leave it exactly the same, someone will be unhappy.”
The county is remapping its districts to settle a lawsuit over its previous at-large system. Voters last November also changed the county charter to district elections in which voters of each specific area choose their individual supervisor.
Prior to the election, San Mateo County was the only one of the state’s 58 counties to elect supervisors countywide.
An independent nine-person committee of public officials and residents are resetting the boundaries and, as Tissier pointed out, the process is a lot more complicated than taking a crash course in cartography.
Driving the concern are cities afraid they will be divided into multiple districts and, in a completely different corner, backers of the lawsuit threatening action if the county splits up minority groups with the new lines.
The lawsuit, filed in April 2011, claimed the then-existing countywide system violated the California Voting Rights Act by diluting minority votes and precluding Latino and Asian candidates from securing county office.
In the mix, the committee is left needing to split the five districts as equally as possible by population while also considering socioeconomic and race factors. Shared interests and voter “diluting” can also be included.
Supervisor Dave Pine, a strong proponent of district elections, believes the current lines are legally defensible if necessary and that racial and ethnic concerns are only among many on a long list of considered points.
“One concern should not drive this whole process,” he said.
For some cities, the bigger priority is staying together. Crafting five equally-sized districts without at least one city split is impossible which has left some cities lobbying and puzzling over drafts.
A one city split option requires dividing either Burlingame, Millbrae or San Bruno — all in Pine’s District One — and allocated a piece to District Three which includes the coastside and southern county.
“It would be an extraordinarily odd looking map,” Pine said.
The Burlingame City Council asked the district advisory committee to, at the very least, split it between District One and Two rather than the coast and south because doing so runs counter to the goal of keeping “communities of interest” together. Burlingame shares a fire department with Hillsborough and high school students with Hillsborough, San Mateo, Millbrae and San Bruno, Mayor Ann Keighran noted in a letter.
Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan said the majority of that city’s officials were not happy with the proposed map that places some of it into District Five.
“It was like, we need some Asians so let’s take Millbrae,” she said, in reference to the lawsuit.
Her preference is cleaning up the current maps to keep precincts intact.
Committee Co-chair Warren Slocum, also a member of the Board of Supervisors, said as the former registrar of voters he understands the concern over splits
“The way I look at it is from the voters’ point of view and what could be confusing. When you start drawing lines and crossing freeways, that can affect turnout and increase the cost of election administration,” Slocum said.
At its Sept. 24 meeting, the committee will decide which map or maps it forwards to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. Tissier and Slocum are both aiming for three.
But while the committee has winnowed down the submitted maps to a handful, Tissier said drafts and all input was still being accepted through Sept. 20.
“The more feedback we get at the committee and board level the better decisions we’ll make,” Tissier said, joking that they’d even accept designs on a napkin.
The county last drew district lines in September 2011 as mandated after the U.S. Census numbers were released. One current school of thought is to leave the districts as is.
Another, known as the “precinct cleanup” map, leaves them largely intact with some more minor tweaks to make the lines not split voting precincts, said county spokesman Marshall Wilson.
The Daly City Council backs the so-called “community unity” plan which maintains District Five as a “majority minority” Asian district.
Then there is the resident-submitted Nakamura 1A2 plan which pushes Redwood Shores into District Four, keeps Pacifica in District Three and revises the boundary in Belmont between districts Two and Three.
Tissier said South San Francisco still plans to submit a map as does the county’s Republican Party.
Regardless of the final maps, Pine, a member of the charter review committee that recommended district elections, is glad to see them come to fruition.
“It’s a big change. The most important thing is that we now operate in that system. It’s really the most important thing here regardless of how these lines are drawn,” he said.
The community also needs to realize the work at wider representation doesn’t stop with the new maps, Papan said.
“The real power once those districts are established are in getting those in the community to step forward. We need to make sure our diverse communities are represented with people who are willing to run,” she said.
For more information, visit www.smcdistrictcommittee.org. To learn how to draw a map, see www.smcdistrictlines.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102