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Bay Area congressional districts look wildly different in new maps

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 10/27/2021 By Tal Kopan

WASHINGTON — California just got its first taste of what political boundaries in the state might look like for the next decade. For the Bay Area’s congressional districts, the map could wreak havoc.

The initial visualization from the Citizen Redistricting Commission would transform the Bay Area political landscape, pitting several incumbents against each other, drawing lawmakers’ hometowns out of the districts they currently represent and making one of California’s few swing seats significantly more Republican-leaning. In Southern California, onlookers were surprised to see the commission possibly erode one of Los Angeles’ predominantly Black districts, a version of which is currently held by Rep. Karen Bass, who is running for mayor.

The commission on Tuesday released its first statewide visualization of maps for congressional, state Senate, Assembly and state Board of Equalization districts. The boundaries are not considered an official proposal for maps; they’re characterized as a response to input the commission has received in the process. But, the panel’s spokesperson Fredy Ceja said: “These visualizations continue to be refined and will eventually become draft maps.”

Already, the lines at the congressional level have raised eyebrows.

“Certainly everybody in the California delegation is scratching their heads wondering who drew these maps and what were they thinking,” said one sitting lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to appear to exert political influence on the nonpartisan process. The Chronicle granted the request, consistent with its policy on anonymous sources.

“Most of us are trying not to assign too much meaning to these visualizations,” the lawmaker said. “You have to have some confidence that the commission will hear from the public and settle back into something more rational.”

Some changes to the map were expected, as census results meant California will lose a congressional seat. But population changes in the Bay Area were limited, with most experts expecting changes would largely be felt in Southern California, especially Los Angeles.

Instead, few districts in the Bay Area remain intact in the new visualization.

In the North Bay, the Marin County region currently within San Rafael Rep. Jared Huffman’s district, where he lives, would be combined with fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena’s Napa-area district. The rest of Huffman’s North Coast district up to the Oregon border would be slightly widened and remain intact. Nearby, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, would find most of his district absorbed by that of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale (Butte County).

For the East Bay’s Democrats, Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee’s district would not change significantly, but Livermore Rep. Eric Swalwell’s district would be divided up into several other districts. Concord Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s district would be split into two, one of which would absorb some of Swalwell’s. The San Francisco district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not change significantly.

In the Democratic South Bay, San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier’s district would grow to include much of Palo Alto Rep. Anna Eshoo’s current district, while Eshoo’s would shrink. Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna’s home would be in a new district that includes some of Swalwell’s current East Bay district, whereas the rest of his district would be centered in Cupertino. While there’s no requirement that lawmakers must live in the district they serve, such a dynamic could prove awkward or challenging for some. Strikingly, after the commission weighed creating a majority-Asian American voting population in Khanna’s district, the new visualization would leave the Cupertino district with a smaller Asian American share than it currently has.

San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s district would grow north and east to include Tracy, which would remove that borderline East Bay community from the district of Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock (Stanislaus County). That would result in a significantly more Republican district for Harder’s current swing seat, something Democrats are already labeling a GOP “gerrymander” after San Joaquin Valley locals, some with political ambitions of their own, pushed for such a map. Stanislaus County, which would be the bulk of the remaining district, voted against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom 54-46 in the recent recall election.

Still, experts believe the maps will change, especially the loss of a majority-Black seat in Los Angeles.

“People should take these maps seriously, but not literally.” said Paul Mitchell, a Sacramento data consultant and redistricting expert. “There are major structural problems that mean this isn’t a ready-to-go final map, and the commission and staff knows this.”

The commission of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents will meet this week to discuss the visualizations and receive feedback. While they will not be taking politics into account, they will be listening to communities that can show they share a common interest in being kept together and concerns about minority representation.

They are likely to hear concerns on those fronts. James Woodson, policy director of the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub, which submitted maps aimed at protecting the Black vote, said his group appreciated the commission’s work but had problems with the visualization. In particular at the congressional level, he said, the group has reservations about splitting Black communities in Los Angeles and throughout the Bay Area, especially in Vallejo and Contra Costa.

“While there are some areas where the commission has been responsive to Black community input, we have concerns about the current visualizations we see,” Woodson said. “It is important that, as this process moves forward, the commission continues to center the voices of traditionally underrepresented communities to ensure that political voice is not diminished.”

Tal Kopan is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: Twitter: @talkopan


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