CSAC Bulletin Article

Hot Topic: Redistricting – Who Will Draw the Lines?

April 18, 2019

With the next US Census approaching quickly, this is the year for the Legislature to make changes to the redistricting process for local agencies. Two bills in particular—AB 849 and SB 139—would impose new requirements on counties in attempts to make the process more transparent and independent. CSAC’s Government, Finance and Administration policy committee will host a panel discussion on this issue at their meeting next Thursday at 9 a.m. during CSAC’s Legislative Conference.

In most cases, decisions about district boundaries rest with the agency’s governing body: legislatures draw legislative districts, county boards draw supervisorial districts, and so on. However, before the last round of redistricting, California’s voters passed two ballot measures that required the state’s legislative and congressional districts to be drawn by an independent commission instead. That commission’s process was more transparent than had previously been the case and their product was widely, though not universally, praised as producing maps that more accurately reflected California’s demographic changes than the ones drawn the previous decade by the Legislature.

With that success, and with the issue of unrepresentative districts remaining in the public eye nationally, state legislators have introduced bills to improve the transparency and independence of redistricting at the local level. The two most significant measures are:

AB 849, by Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D – Alameda), which would rewrite redistricting laws for all types of local agencies, including counties, standardizing the process and introducing significant new transparency requirements. The bill in its current form would also change the criteria local boards must use to make their decisions about district boundaries. CSAC has a position of “oppose unless amended” (letter).

SB 139, by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica), which would require independent redistricting commissions for counties with a population of at least 250,000 (Los Angeles and San Diego Counties are already required to have independent commissions and all other local agencies are permitted to). They would be based on the state’s redistricting commission, but would require significant new duties of county registrars in evaluating applicants. CSAC has a position of “concerns” (letter).

Neither bill currently includes funding.

Give the nationwide focus on fair redistricting, this issue will continue to be a target for legislative action. Join CSAC’s GFA policy committee next Thursday to hear from the bills’ sponsor, California Common Cause, and others in a discussion about this topic.

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