By Horace H. Heidt
When I ran for the Assembly in California in 1992 I was shocked to discover that the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles, was the most underrepresented land mass in the United States. At the time there were approximately 1.5 million people (about the size of Philadelphia, PA) residing in the Valley. More than half of the land area of the City of Los Angeles lies within the San Fernando Valley. The Los Angeles City section of the valley is divided into seven city council districts: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12.
The Valley is represented in the California State Legislature by seven members of the State Assembly and five members of the State Senate. The Valley is divided into five congressional districts. In the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, it is represented by two supervisorial districts. The problem, however, is that most of these districts are not solely located within the natural geographic boundaries of the Valley- the Santa Susana Mountains to the northwest, the Simi Hills to the west, the Santa Monica Mountains and Chalk Hills to the south, the Verdugo Mountains to the east, and the San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast. The result is that our elected officials are not only representing us but also other areas of Southern California. Many times the interests of the Valley are ignored or lose out to other areas like West Los Angeles, an area that has more political clout. Of the 12 State Assembly and State Senate elected officials who represent the Valley, only 3 (three) of those representatives are currently Valley residents.
Even more amazingly, California was the only State in the Union in which the politicians drew their own district lines. This in its negative sense is called Gerrymandering. As a consequence our districts for City Council, State Assembly, Senate and Congress looked like zoo animals. For example California’s 23rd Congressional District is confined to a narrow strip of coast, an example of the packing style of districting. One might call this a snake design district.
This was designed by an incumbent to provide for a safe Democrat seat. The effects of negative Gerrymandering are reduction in electoral competition and voter turnout, increased incumbent advantage and campaign costs and less descriptive representation. This conflict of interest got so bad that during last year’s election, 2010, not one Democratic incumbent lost an election on the State level. While several Congressional races were hard fought in California, no House seats changed parties, keeping the state’s delegation 33 to 20 in favor of Democrats. In the face of a GOP juggernaut across much of the US, California opted for Democrats in major statewide races. Much of this National reversal was caused in part, by the Gerrymandering of the past.
Now thanks to two Propositions 11 and 20, an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has been appointed to redraw the lines. Now ordinary citizens will have the opportunity to have a voice in a process that has historically been dominated by politics. After each census (every 10 years) State and Congressional district boundaries are redrawn. For the first time, the decisions are being made by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, not the political incumbents. Right now the commission is holding hearings all over the State to redraw the lines. City Council President Eric Garcetti released preliminary demographic information developed by Eric Richardson at blogdowntown.com, who has worked developing maps for private firms.
Preliminary census data released to the City of Los Angeles showed its population at 3.7 million in 2010, up from 3.5 million in 2000. Most of the growth in the city was believed to be in the San Fernando Valley, while the Mid-City areas around Hollywood showed a decline in population. Richardson’s figures showed the five districts wholly within the Valley- the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 12th-grew from 979,395 in 2000 to 1,022,629 in 2010. The two districts that overlap into the Valley also saw an increase of roughly 52,000 residents.
The Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) has joined forces with several Valley groups to form the San Fernando Valley Redistricting Coalition.
The group (comprised of the United Chambers of Commerce, VICA, Valley Vote, Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce) support a set of principles to guide redistricting. The principles define the San Fernando Valley and encourage commissioners to ensure the legislators who represent the Valley have a strong connection to the region. The “We Are San Fernando Valley” redistricting principals are:
- The San Fernando Valley is a geographical area roughly bounded by the Santa Susana Mountains to the north and west, Mulholland Drive to the south, and the San Gabriel Mountains to the east. It lies wholly within Los Angeles County and includes the cities of Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills and San Fernando, as well as the Valley portion of the City of Los Angeles.
- We support the creation of districts that maximize the connection that legislators have with the San Fernando Valley.
- Our community is best served by a redistricting that maximizes the number of districts that are either wholly within the Valley or in which the Valley is the most influential voter bloc. • If it is necessary to merge Valley seats with areas outside of the Valley, the highest priority to be maintained is that a majority of voters are within the San Fernando Valley and protect like communities of interest.
- Our goals for redistricting are non-partisan and are only to be shaped by the interest of maximizing representation and advancing goals of Valley businesses and residents.
- All recognized communities should be kept together as part of compact and contiguous districts which shall recognize geographic features and natural boundaries.
- All districts should be numbered sequentially from the north to south.
- Two Assembly district seats should be within a state Senate district (also called nesting).
It is not rocket science to understand that the geographical boundaries of the valley should be held intact and that all Valley representatives should have their districts within these boundaries. The valley which at the present time has two State Representatives who actually live in the valley should have a minimum of four Assembly districts and two State Senate districts that are contained wholly in the valley. Two of the Assembly districts should be nested within each State Senate district- that is two Assembly districts should be nested within one State Senate district. All Valley representatives should live in the San Fernando Valley. Please take the time to attend the hearings and follow the process. The future of the State of California depends on you.