Humboldt County redistricting process comes to rest; Republicans seek referendum in June 2012

The independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission in Sacramento on July 29 agreed to move its preliminary final maps to the public review stage and voted to approve their adoption on Monday, Aug. 15. Now that the commission has certified the state's new legislative and congressional district maps, Congressman Mike Thompson's reign over the North Coast will be coming to an end, having served the region since 1999. But on Monday, Thompson announced he will seek re-election in the reshaped Fifth Congressional district, should they be the final Congressional district maps. In addition, the new maps now place Assemblyman Wes Chesbro's District 1 in the 2nd District.

But Republican leaders, not pleased with the commission's results, on Monday said they would support a petition for a referendum on the June 2012 ballot to overturn the newly approved state Senate districts, contending they favor Democrats.

"A referendum will be filed with respect to the Senate lines and possibly the congressional lines," said California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro. "The California Republican Party will wholeheartedly support those efforts when they come about." Del Beccaro remarked that the redistricting commission's actions "have been unfair if not unconstitutional."

Humboldt County officials on Tuesday of this week approved a letter encouraging the Citizens Redistricting Commission to schedule an appearance here as it travels throughout the state gathering public input on redistricting. Humboldt County Supervisors must establish the lines by Nov. 1 or the responsibility will fall on the District Attorney, Registrar of Voters, and Humboldt County Assessor to make the final decisions.

The new redistricting maps mostly feature a revamping of the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Districts, with most of the 2nd District's new area carved out of Rep. Mike Thompson's 1st District, which is renamed the 5th District.

Thompson, on Monday said he will run for re-election in the entirely inland 5th District, which includes Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. In a statement Monday, he said, "The district changes and transition will be seamless," and noted that he has represented some of his new district previously, as a state senator.

As the state goes through a mandated redistricting process every 10 years, so does the county. According to the Humboldt County elections office, growth in the last 10 years has significantly changed the population of some districts, particularly the 2nd and 5th districts, both of which have increased, and the size of some districts have people like Second District Supervisor Cliff Clendenen saying that District Two is too large for its own good.

In November of 2008, California voters authorized the creation of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. Before 2008, California legislators drew the districts. This is the first time in California history that an independent citizens commission has taken a role in delineating district boundaries. Over 2,700 members of the public have spoken at 34 commission hearings around the state and close to 20,000 comments have been received in writing.

The Humboldt County Supervisor's letter to the redistricting committee suggests that commission members are not fully aware of the geography and diversity of the area and need more information in order to create redistricting maps that make economic and geographic sense.

"The schedule of hearings currently defined demonstrates a severe lack of appreciation for the tremendous scale, topography and diversity of Northern California," the letter states. In addition, 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith has mentioned the commission's lack of opportunity for input and remarked, "There hasn't been a universal public process on this."

Back in June, local officials and some residents raised concerns about sharing representatives with the more affluent Marin County, and the Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter written by Chairman and 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace opposing the first redistricting maps. Maps released on June 10 concerned Lovelace who said that the proposed lines could result in weak representation on coastal and fisheries issues as well as agricultural and water issues.

But Norman Solomon, a Democratic congressional candidate said of the redistricting, "I'm excited to be running for Congress in California's newly formed North Coast district -- a diverse, stunningly beautiful region with a long history of political independence and progressive values. Let's hit the ground running and seize this chance to work together for our communities."

"If Marin and Humboldt counties are together in the same congressional district, let's make the most of it. We can do that as communities and leaders build new alliances for common interests," Solomon said, in an Aug. 16 press release.

A hearing geared for the Eel River Valley occurred on July 26 in the Scotia Fire Hall, but was sparsely attended. Participants included Southern Humboldt and Eel River residents Bonnie Blackberry, Estelle Fennell, Blake Lehman, Charlie Custer attorney Erik Kirk and 2nd District Supervisor Clif Clendenen. A League of Women Voters representative from Fortuna also came as an observer.

According to the elections office, most growth over past ten years has been in the 2nd and 5th districts, and data from the 2010 Census shows that the total population of Humboldt County is 134,623 - an increase of 8,105 over the last 10 years.

The redistricting committee consists of Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich, Sheriff Mike Downey, District Attorney Paul Gallegos and Assessor Mari Wilson.

Politically speaking, the new lines must preserve the incumbent's ability to serve, which means that current supervisors can't be taken out of their districts. Since the new boundary lines would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, the supervisors of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts would serve their new districts for about a year before they are up for reelection. Meanwhile, the 4th and 5th district supervisors would serve for two more years before they would be up for election.

According to a recent article in the Redwood Times, a great many Southern Humboldters favor the idea of moving into the First District and out of the Second District "so their politics will no longer be dominated by Fortuna." One of their proposals would create a horseshoe shaped district wherein Redway and Garberville will be the main hub or population center.

According to Scotia Fire Chief Steve Brozniak, he said that they would prefer to be included in the Second District as they considered themselves "more urban than rural." Residents of Rio Dell have also expressed a desire to stay in the Second District with Fortuna.

The preliminary final maps can now be viewed at the Commission's website, www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov. The public may weigh in with comments to votersfirstact@crc.ca.gov, or by fax at 916-651-5711.

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