Both offer a citizen-driven, transparent process; Martinez council has no say, Brentwood council will only make final choice; Antioch and Richmond get honorable mentions for offering online mapping tools
By Allen Payton
Comparing the redistricting process used by the county supervisors, cities, education boards and special districts in Contra Costa County whose members are elected by district, ward or area, it’s clear that just like the slogan they’ve been using for the past few years, it really is better in Brentwood – than most. But Martinez offers the best process in the county. Both have independent redistricting commissions and offer the same, easy-to-use online mapping tool for the public to draw and submit their own maps. While Brentwood’s process ends with the council only choosing from already completed maps, the Martinez council has no say and takes what their commission gives them.
At least Brentwood’s doing it right, this time. That’s because when the initial districts were drawn and approved in 2019 for the 2020 election and based on the 2010 Census, the Brentwood city council map for Districts 2 and 4 was obviously gerrymandered to benefit one if not more incumbents. Just look at the section of District 2 on the southwest side of the BNSF railroad tracks and you’ll see, that’s surrounded on three sides by District 4. But it really had no effect since those two seats aren’t up for election until next November.
Besides Martinez and Brentwood, the following cities and school districts elect their members by district and are undergoing a redistricting process:
Antioch City Council – District Elections – City of Antioch, California (antiochca.gov) – Antioch online mapping tool
Antioch School Board – Post Census Redistricting / 2020 Census Redistricting (antiochschools.net) – No online mapping tool.
Concord City Council – Redistricting | Concord, CA (cityofconcord.org) – No online mapping tool, yet. Process started Nov. 2.
Richmond City Council – Redistricting 2020 Census | Richmond, CA – Official Website – For online mapping tools click on “Draw Map”.
San Ramon City Council – Redistricting 2022 – City of San Ramon (ca.gov) – No online mapping tool. The council will consider final redistricting maps on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Contra Costa Water District – No redistricting page nor online mapping tool. The board was given a redistricting presentation during their Oct. 15 meeting. The next meeting will be held on Jan. 5 with expected completion by March 16.
Contra Costa Community College District – www.4cd.edu/gb/redistricting – No online mapping tool. See below for process information.
In 2010, both the college board and the Contra Costa County Board of Education adopted the same exact map. But their website doesn’t offer a very detailed map for the public to see in which district they live and which trustee is their representative.
Oakley Council Converts to District Elections
Most Gerrymandered Current District Map
So far, the current map in the county with the most gerrymandered districts I’ve seen is for the Contra Costa Community College District, and as a result of the above, the county Board of Education, too. It combines Lamorinda with Hercules, Rodeo and Crockett in one ward and all of the San Ramon Valley, sans Alamo, in the same ward as Byron and Discovery Bay. Plus, it splits six cities, as well. Those trustee ward lines were clearly drawn in 2011 to protect the incumbents, at that time.
This year, the college district staff tried to present their board with only one map to consider – drawn by staff and an attorney, with minor changes to the current map, continuing to protect incumbents. Where the current council or board members live is not a required consideration for redistricting. However, it’s understandable why that it would happen since staff members have a conflict of interest and inherent bias in wanting to please their bosses, instead of drawing maps to serve we the people. (See related article)
Fortunately, the college board wisely directed staff to open up the process for more public input and offer two more proposed maps and an online survey about those choices, although they aren’t offering an online mapping tool.
While school boards have a deadline of March 1, 2022, to complete the process and submit an approved map, city councils have until April 17. The supervisors had to complete their process sooner, because filing for the June Primary election for Districts 1 and 4 opens mid-February and closes mid-March.
While some cities, like Antioch were trying to complete their process by the end of January – which the council just extended by a month – Brentwood’s process, which began Oct. 14 won’t be completed until March 3 and possibly not until March 10.
While congressional redistricting is the most difficult because it requires no more than a one person difference between districts, all other districts can have a maximum of a five percent population deviation from average, referred to as ideal, to be legally acceptable.
Process in Martinez Started First, Includes Independent Commission
Martinez, which began their redistricting process way back in January, has a seven-member independent redistricting commission, not chosen by the council. In August four commissioners were randomly drawn by the Deputy City Clerk from different quadrants in the city. Then those commissioners selected three additional commissioners from a designated pool of applicants. Finally, another random draw was undertaken to determine the two alternates from the remaining pool of qualified applicants.
The commissioners are responsible for drawing council districts in Martinez and held their first meeting on Sept. 22. So, the council has no say. They get what the people give them.
Martinez offers residents an online mapping tool to draw and submit alternative maps, just like the county supervisors’ did, and Brentwood and Antioch offer. While the supervisors’ online tool was easy to use, the tool offered by Martinez and Brentwood is easier. Each of the proposed maps and even the draft maps drawn by members of the public are on the site and can be viewed by anyone.
Redistricting in Brentwood Better Than Most
Brentwood’s redistricting process also offers residents an online mapping tool. Like Martinez, each of the proposed maps and even the draft maps drawn by members of the public are included on the City’s redistricting website for all to see and review to maximize public input.
The Brentwood city council established an independent, citizens redistricting commission, whose five members and four alternates volunteered and were selected by retired Judge Thelton Henderson – not the mayor and council members – following an application process. All but the last step of the redistricting process was transferred to them. The commission is leading the redistricting process by holding public hearings, reviewing all maps submitted by the public and gathering “community input to ensure everyone’s voice is heard”.
When the commission’s part of the process is complete, it will submit two or more potential boundary maps to the City Council and – here’s the best part – the Council must then select one of the submitted maps – wait for it – without modifying!
Interestingly enough, many of the publicly submitted maps in Brentwood look similar in how best to create new, common-sense districts – drawn based on the principals of compactness, Communities of Interest, using natural and man-made barriers for boundary lines and one-person-one-vote, with the smallest population percentage deviation from average as possible. Unfortunately, some of the maps submitted for the Brentwood City Council process don’t follow the aforementioned principles and can’t be considered because they don’t comply with the maximum population deviation percent requirement.
Both Antioch and Richmond also offer online mapping tools and while Antioch’s has had glitches, it appears those have been worked out. Richmond was using the same tool as Martinez and Brentwood, known as DistrictR. But it has been replaced with Dave’s Redistricting App (DRA) because DistrictR uses population estimates while Dave’s Redistricting App uses the official population. Dave’s is difficult to use.
Richmond also offers Maptitude, which is the same software app used by the consultant to the state Citizens Redistricting Commission. But both require someone to sign up in order to use them. People can use Antioch’s online mapping tool as a guest, which requires the map be drawn all in one setting because it can’t be saved without signing up and logging in.
Other Councils and Boards Should Follow Example of Martinez and Brentwood
I can often be pretty tough on candidates and elected officials in my media role and responsibility of holding them accountable. But I also believe it’s good to praise those who are doing it right.
Neither the council members in Martinez nor Brentwood can make any changes to the final maps, thus, they won’t have any ability to gerrymander their districts to benefit themselves. They’ve empowered the people to have control over choosing who they will have represent them instead of the other way around. Representative government in our republic. Hey, what a concept!
Why don’t all the other boards of government agencies in our county do the same? Martinez and Brentwood are the example for the Board of Supervisors, other city councils, school and college boards to follow for the best way to handle the redistricting process.
The Brentwood City Council should be congratulated for doing it right and the best, when it comes to redistricting, this year.
Hopefully, all the other cities and districts, and the supervisors in Contra Costa will duplicate what Brentwood is doing, 10 years from now, the next time they will redistrict. Actually, they don’t have to wait. Once the current process is completed for the 2022 elections, the other councils and districts will have plenty of time for a redo by the 2024 elections.
Unless that happens, then remember, folks, the district lines approved this time will be in place for the next 10 years. So, while the redistricting process may be technical and dry, the decisions made now can and will affect who we have representing us during that time, and making decisions affecting our lives, homes, schools, businesses, and communities. So, stay informed, engaged and give your input on redistricting.