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Taking the politics out of redistricting

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When the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Redistricting handed over its final recommendations to the City Council on Tuesday, the real work began on shaping the city for the next 10 years.

Council members were given four maps to choose from, two of which potentially pit council members against each other for control of a single district.

Whatever decision the council members make, they won’t have another opportunity to change district lines until the redistricting process begins again in 2021.

In January, the advisory committee began reviewing 37 maps submitted by Sacramento residents for redrawing district lines. By the end of June, the committee members narrowed the field to the final group of four.

“We’re going to have some tough conversations,” said Councilman Steve Cohn in an interview Monday. “It isn’t going to be easy, but it will get done, and it will get done right.”

Cohn, who represents District 3, is one council member who faces the possibility of a district line shift that would combine his district with that of another council member, Sandy Sheedy.

“It’s not about what I want for me,” Cohn said. “It’s about what’s best for the people I represent. Do I want to stay on the council? Yes, I do. We all want to keep representing the people in our districts. But we have to look at all of the options and see what’s best.”

In the other potentially contentious scenario, Districts 4 and 5 would be redrawn, putting either Rob Fong or Jay Schenirer out of a council seat.

“I think that we actually have a very collegial group,” said Fong, “and I can’t imagine that we’d be looking to adopt any map that would ‘redistrict out’ any of our current colleagues, but we haven’t really had any discussions about it.”

Fong said the biggest challenge will be honoring redistricting laws as well as the neighborhoods and the communities of interest to see if they can make everyone happy.

“I don’t know if we can,” Fong said. “It’s a bit of a Rubik’s cube, but that’s the challenge in front of us.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson praised the work of the advisory committee at his press conference Tuesday and said that having a citizens’ advisory committee “removed the politics” of redistricting from council members and let the citizens do what they think is in the best interests of the community.

“That’s good government,” Johnson said. “That’s transparency.”

Johnson said at the council meeting that the final recommendations from the advisory committee show an attempt to keep neighborhoods “whole,” or as close as possible without a lot of deviation.

“(The advisory council) did it with a blind eye,” Johnson said. “They didn’t care who was incumbent, and they didn’t care about (district) lines. It was only about neighborhoods and communities of interest.”

Maya Wallace, 33, is an auditor for the Bureau of State Audits who served as an at-large appointee on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

“It was fairly challenging,” Wallace said. “I felt that we needed to ensure that the process was open and transparent, and we wanted to do this in a way that was objective.”

Wallace said she wasn’t prepared, however, for the lack of knowledge she had about the politics behind the process.

“We really needed to be sensitive to the community’s concerns, especially their concerns about the process,” Wallace said.

Bill Magavern, 51, an advocate from the Southside Park neighborhood, asked the council Tuesday to choose the final map from the among the four maps the committee recommended.

“If you were to throw out (the committee’s) maps and cobble together one of your own,” Magavern said, “I think you would lose a lot of credibility with the public.”

Johnson said he hasn’t yet formed an opinion for his preference of any of the maps, but he said that he is “all in favor” of choosing one of the maps from the advisory council.

“It will validate all of the time and effort that we asked (the advisory committee) to put forward.

“If we start tampering with it,” Johnson added, “then that dilutes the process, and it’s not as authentic as citizen involvement should be.”

The questions is: Will the final decision reflect the community’s best interests – or the council’s?

“Hopefully we’ll do what’s true and respectful to the work that (the advisory committee) has done,” Johnson said.

The City Council has until Aug. 26 to make a final decision on how the new city district lines will be drawn.

Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follwer her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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