Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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Sara Rubin here, working this afternoon from a coffee shop in Gonzales, located in Congressional District 20, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley. If the California Citizens Redistricting Commission approves the draft maps as released on Wednesday, Nov. 10, I’d no longer be in Panetta’s district from where I sit—I would instead be in a district that includes the eastern half of the Salinas Valley, then extends north to Hollister, Gilroy and San Jose. (I’d be in a district currently represented by Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.)

Besides slicing the Salinas Valley roughly in half, the draft map dodges in and out a bit, putting Soledad in the western half of the Salinas Valley, along with Carmel Valley, Big Sur, the Monterey Peninsula and, to the north, Santa Cruz. 

In short: It’s a wild map. Slicing the Salinas Valley in half and splitting it into two districts is a patently terrible idea. The whole underlying premise of redistricting is to clump together what are known as “communities of interest”—places like the Salinas Valley that have a shared culture and economy and four cities along a major transportation corridor.

I asked Sam Farr, a former U.S. Congressman who represented this district for 22 years in Washington—and before that at the county and state level—if he’d ever seen such a bizarre map proposal. He gave a clear no. 

“We’re surrounded by mountains, we are kind of an island of economic and social connections around the Monterey Bay,” Farr says. “We are kind of a unique area. It doesn’t make any sense to cut us up. 

“I think whacking up Monterey Bay is a detriment to the whole state. It’s where California began and historically has been such a prominent voice in state politics, and in federal politics too.”

The draft Assembly districts are similarly wacky. Monterey County today is split into two districts (29 and 30), generally one that is coastal and the other that includes the Salinas Valley and San Benito County. While that general idea would remain in place in what’s proposed, the east-west line again cuts straight down the middle of the Salinas Valley. 

“They’re really screwing over our valley, our community,” says Simon Salinas, a former county supervisor and Assembly member. “It looks like they said, ‘let’s grab population from wherever we can.’”

That’s the thing about redistricting—at its core it’s a mathematical process that has to make electoral districts fit based on census data. But besides math, the maps are also supposed to at least make an effort at keeping communities of interest together.

The draft Assembly map would also cleave Monterey County from much of Santa Cruz County. The Monterey Peninsula is currently represented by Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley. The proposed map means that Stone (who terms out in 2024) would suddenly live in a district that spans up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, and includes Los Gatos and Morgan Hill. Aptos and the Monterey Peninsula would form the northern tip of a coastal district that sprawls southward to encompass Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. The current representative there is Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton. 

“This egregious division of a community of interest shows a clear lack of understanding of our rural communities, shared values and historical connections,” says Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez, whose District 3 includes all of South Monterey County. “We don’t allow our valley of rural communities to be an afterthought or to be carved up to benefit others.” 

The good news is that these draft maps are not yet finalized, and there’s still an opportunity for the public to weigh in. And local leaders, including county supervisors Lopez and Luis Alejo, are coordinating an effort to make the public’s voices heard. 

You can provide comments to the commission online, and a series of virtual public meetings are coming in the following weeks, starting on Nov. 17 for congressional district feedback and Nov. 18 for Assembly district feedback. Final maps must be approved by Dec. 27. 

Your vote matters, but it also matters if you vote in a district that feels like the community you live in, not just a random boundary. So in this case, it’s not your vote, but your public comment that matters. 

-Sara Rubin, editor, sara@mcweekly.com 

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Today's Spotlight is the Foundation for Monterey County Free Libraries, which is raising money for its MORE program (that’s Materials, Options, and Resources for Everyone Regardless of Ability) to get new books, technology and supplies to libraries from Aromas to San Ardo. Learn about their important work—and that of 169 other nonprofits—in this year's campaign, and please donate to support their efforts.

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