Little North County stands to beat big Salinas and win a unified supervisorial district.
Thursday, June 21, 2001
Civil War: Salinas City Councilmember Ernesto Gonzales and North County activist Joy Rosales are battling over the future shape of the county government''s map.The scene in the Salinas Courthouse Monday looked like the first round in a mismatched fight, pitting heavyweight Salinas against scrappy North County in a contest to redraw Monterey County''s supervisorial lines.
In one corner, weighing in at 143,920 residents, the city of Salinas fought to win two seats on the five-seat Board of Supervisors and to stop the committee from slicing its populous city into four districts. In the other corner, a dozen or so North County activists, representing about 41,267 residents, kept on swinging, attending meeting after meeting, and signing petitions to protest a redistricting map that would split North County down the middle.
At press time, it appears that the little guys'' dogged determination may pay off.
On Monday, June 18, the redistricting committee voted 9-4 to send the so-called Plan B to the Board of Supervisors, which would unify the North County communities of Castroville, Moss Landing, Pajaro, Las Lomas, Aromas, Royal Oaks, Prunedale and Oak Hills in District 2.
Plan B''s unified North County comes at the expense of Salinas, which is carved into four districts--a move that Salinas City Manager Dave Mora describes as "totally unacceptable." Committee member Sergio Sanchez told his colleagues on the committee that he agrees with the city manager: "You are cannibalizing Salinas."
The committee''s second-choice map, Plan C, which will also be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors, splits North County into two districts and Salinas into three. Salinas officials prefer that alternative. But Salinas looks to be losing this match.
Under the current map, North County shares two supervisors. District 2''s Judy Pennycook represents half of North County as well as part of Salinas, the Highway 68 corridor, Spreckels, and a small section of Carmel Valley. District 3''s Lou Calcagno represents a piece of the North plus all of South County.
On June 26, the Board of Supervisors will begin public hearings on the redistricting plan. Calcagno has said that he will support a unified North County district, as has Judy Pennycook. "I''ve always said what happened to North County [in the last redistricting process] was wrong," Pennycook says. "It was sliced apart." Both Calcagno and Pennycook live in North County.
District 5 Supervisor Dave Potter says he''ll make no decisions before listening to what the public has to say. But he admits that he sympathizes with North County''s plight.
"If there is anything of real political interest and change I have observed in the last four and a half years, it is the developing political nature of North County, and their concerns about development, traffic and water," Potter says.
On the other side of the Board, Salinas'' District 1 Supervisor Fernando Armenta says he doesn''t want to section Salinas into four districts. District 4 Supervisor Edith Johnsen, who didn''t return the Weekly''s phone calls, is likely to support alternate Plan C, according to county officials.
All of this positions North County to walk off with its own supervisorial district by a 3-2 vote. But it''s still only round one.
"You have to go back and think, what is the purpose of the Board of Supervisors," says North County activist Joy Rosales, who fought unsuccessfully to keep North County intact 10 years ago when the current boundaries lines were drawn. "The purpose of the Board of Supervisors is to represent the unincorporated parts of the county that have no city government. And North County is the largest unincorporated area in the county."
North County residents argue that the region has its own school, fire and sanitation districts, as well as its own unique problems, such as salt water intrusion, heavy traffic along county roads, and increasing development of subdivisions on agricultural land. Because their communities are unincorporated, they don''t have any political voice--no mayors, city councils or city managers. They say that a North County Supervisor would be the only voice they''ve got.
"Yes, Salinas has a lot of people, but they also have a very eloquent local government with their own City Council, police department, fire department," Rosales says. "I don''t see why Salinas should have two of the five seats."
The answer, say Salinas officials, is simple math. Salinas is home to nearly 40 percent of the county''s population. This entitles them to at least two reps on the board.
"[Plan B] prevents the populous center of the county from becoming what it should be in a democracy--the political center," says the Citizenship Project''s Paul Johnsten at Monday''s meeting.
"Whatever we do, we are going to break up communities," says redistricting committee member Ernesto Gonzalez, representing Salinas'' District 1. "So do we split Salinas up four ways or two or three?"
The law requires that the supervisors adopt a redistricting plan based on the 2000 Census by Nov. 1. Because the state primary election has been moved to March, however, Court Registrar of Voters Tony Anchundo asked that the plan be adopted by Sept. 28--the filing deadline for candidates in the primary.
Furthermore, because of its history of past discrimination, Monterey County holds the dubious honor of being one of a handful of U.S. counties outside of the Deep South that is required to file every district map for every local office for review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
To be approved by Dept. of Justice, the districts must be "compact and contiguous," and must be designed to provide equal representation of the county''s 401,762 citizens. In other words, each of the five supervisorial districts should hold about 80,000 people, give or take 10 percent.
In Monterey County, the law also requires that boundaries be drawn to encourage minority representation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gives minority groups the right to enough representation to vote for a candidate who will represent their interests. Because Latinos comprise 47 percent of the county''s population, two of the five districts must be made up of a majority of Latino registered voters.
As if playing the numbers game weren''t enough, the supervisors are also charged with maintaining "communities of interest" in a single district, and avoiding splitting neighborhoods where possible.
There''s also the unofficial objective: keep the maps out of the courts, and ensure a speedy approval--unlike the last go round.
In 1991, after a series of different redistricting maps were hotly contested, and under the threat of a federal lawsuit from Latino activists, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors adopted a district map intended to create two predominately Latino districts.
One district would include most of Salinas, with its 67 percent Latino majority. A second, pterodactyl-shaped district with a 61 percent Latino majority would be created by joining the Latino South County communities with largely white North County.
That''s when all hell broke lose. White North County residents were angry that Latino representation cost them a seat on the Board of Supervisors, and joined them with a district stretching to the southernmost county line. They found temporary political allies in the county''s black population, similarly outraged by the Supervisors'' map.
In the fall of 1992, a group called La Raza Redistricting Committee filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Jose against the county. The cities of Marina and Seaside intervened in the lawsuit. North County activists also fought for a say in the lawsuit, demanding a reunited North County district.
Ultimately the judge ruled that the North County plan would have silenced the Latino voices of Salinas Valley by joining them with the largely white population of South Salinas. North County lost its seat on the board. Now, North County wants its district back.
"I think perhaps North County has been silent for too long," says vice chair of the Redistricting Committee Carolyn Anderson, representing District 3. "It is not only Salinas that has a right to complain about being carved up. We are no longer willing to be cannibalized for the benefit of everyone else."
Both redistricting maps will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at a public hearing, June 26, in the Board of Supervisor''s Chambers at 11am.