Taxpayers have paid more than $100,000 for a transparent and fair district line drawing process. After residents voted to change its county-wide elections for members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors last year, the board agreed to form an independent advisory committee to help create the new electoral districts. Over the past six months, the board touted its support for the community-driven process. Several of the supervisors who are up for re-election even stated that they intentionally stayed out of the redistricting process to avoid the clear conflict of interest. Last week, all of this went out the window when the board indicated its desire to reject the advisory committee’s recommended maps in place of its own
Hundreds of residents, including myself, volunteered our time to help the committee draft district lines over the course of 10 evening and weekend meetings. All of the meetings were public and map drafts were posted online to maximize community input. Residents — many of whom had never participated in a county-wide process — came from all over the county based on the promise that their voices mattered. The city councils of the county’s largest and most diverse cities also participated in the process, with Daly City and South San Francisco supporting the maps produced by county residents. As a result of this collaborative effort, the committee recommended three maps that best protect the county’s diverse communities.
After all this, it appears the supervisors continue to favor the status-quo — keeping district lines created under the previous at-large system. Yes, the same at-large system which was sued in 2011 for being discriminatory toward the Asians and Latinos who make up more than 50 percent of the county’s population. That lawsuit cost taxpayers over a million dollars and could have been prevented had the supervisors put the issue to the people as they were urged to do in 2009 by the civil grand jury. History seems to be repeating itself as the board ignores warnings of another discrimination lawsuit should it adopt the current lines instead of a committee-approved map.
Most importantly, however, this is the county’s first redistricting process. Every decade going forward, the county will readjust district lines to reflect its changing population. This is a unique opportunity to do the right thing from the beginning and leave a legacy that encourages, rather than undercuts, civic engagement. Instead of setting a precedent that leaves the door wide open for political gerrymandering, I urge the board to respect the people of San Mateo County by voting on a map created by the community itself.
The board will likely vote on a new district map at its Oct. 22 meeting.
Mike Guingona is a member of the Daly City Council, which represents the county's largest city.