06/24/2011 by Felicia Matlosz
At Fresno redistricting hearing, some express fears of diluted representation
More than 150 people packed a hearing in Fresno on Thursday to dissect proposed boundaries for California's congressional and state legislative districts. Many speakers expressed concerns about mismatched mergers and diluted representation.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission conducted the public hearing to get responses to their first round of tentative maps. Second drafts of the maps will be released July 14, with final versions due by Aug. 15.
Many of the nearly 75 speakers criticized any combination of Central Valley areas with coastal or Bay Area cities. They said the changes make no sense because the regions have little in common.
For example, the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara don't share the valley's air quality issues, severe water shortages or crushing unemployment, said Scott Silveira, a dairyman and Los Banos City Council member.
Speakers also said the valley's extensive and productive agriculture distinguishes it from other regions in the state.
Mario Santoyo, director of the California Latino Water Coalition, said stretching Senate seats this way would “continue to cause problems for us to have a voice in Sacramento.” His organization's focus includes addressing the issues of Latinos, particularly those in farm-related work who are the first to lose jobs when water shortages occur.
“We can't afford to have a lack of understanding or representation in terms of our issues,” Santoyo said.
Concerns also were raised that Hispanic representation in general would be weakened, and several speakers urged the commission to consider lines proposed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
Some speakers said that joining valley cities with foothill communities wouldn't work because they have different issues. Others asked why Fresno County would be divided among five congressional districts.
After the nearly three-hour session, Commissioner Maria Blanco said the speakers “gave us good feedback” and commission members have begun looking at all concerns raised at these statewide hearings.
In 2008, California voters approved establishing the commission to redraw state legislative boundaries, which took the task away from state politicians. In 2010, voters added congressional redistricting to the responsibilities.
Several speakers Thursday thanked the commission for its time and dedication to a difficult and complicated process.
“At the end of the day,” said Steve Geil, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County, “I know it will be much better than what we've had over the years.”