In a recent op-ed, Tom Del Beccaro the chairman of the California Republican Party stated in part:
—... by failing to follow the legal guidelines, such as 'geographic compactness,' i.e. a prohibition against bypassing areas of population for more distant populations, the commission violated our state constitution no less than 11 times or more that 25 percent of the Senate seats.
"For instance, they matched Santa Cruz with San Luis Obispo, which are separated by miles and miles of mountains because, according to a commissioner they shared a specific portion of the Pacific Ocean -- and that was all the justification they needed to extinguish an existing Republican Senate Seat."
Del Baccaro is correct in saying that geographic compactness is one of the six legal guidelines. What he conveniently left out is that the compactness criteria is ranked fifth in priority and the constitution explicitly states it should not conflict with higher priority guidelines.
Here are the six guidelines in priority order with how each affect District 17:
1. Districts shall comply with the U.S. Constitution. Congressional districts shall achieve population equality as nearly as is practicable, and senatorial, Assembly, and state Board of Equalization districts shall have reasonably equal population with other districts for the same office, except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act or allowable by law. In District 17 the population count was 931,341 just 8 people short of the target count of 931,349.
2. Districts shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
Since Monterey County falls under the Voting Rights Act, the commission made sure District 17 had no retrogression of minority populations and did not diminish the ability of protected groups to elect the candidates of their choice.
3. Districts shall be geographically contiguous. The district is contiguous in that there was not any part of the district that was geographically separate from any other part of the district.
4. The geographic integrity of any city, county, city and county, local neighborhood, or local community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes their division to the extent possible without violating the requirements of any of the preceding subdivisions... Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents or political candidates.
Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo were kept whole. Monterey County was split by an east/west divide to provide required minority population to Senate District 12, which also contains Merced County another voting rights county and needed that population to meet both its population and percentage of minority population requirements.
Santa Clara County was divided to provide the closest population to ensure population equality. Of the 21 largest cities in the district only San Jose was split to achieve population equality. Other areas of common interest included regional agricultural economies, coast and open space preservation and environmental protection. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is almost entirely contained within the district.
5. To the extent practicable and where this does not conflict with the criteria above, districts shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant population. There are no "areas of population that are bypassed for more distant population." This district easily meets the compactness criteria, especially when one considers that each Senate district must contain almost 1 million people.
6. To the extent practicable, and where this does not conflict with the criteria above, each Senate district shall be comprised of two whole, complete, and adjacent Assembly districts, and each Board of Equalization district shall be comprised of 10 whole, complete, and adjacent Senate districts.
Because of both Monterey and Merced counties are voting rights counties the district was not able to be fully nested, but did achieve approximately 75 percent nesting of two assembly districts.
If Del Baccaro had taken the time to read the full redistricting report compiled by the commission, he could have found a narrative that makes clear that the district he is using as an example of violating the constitution is actually consistent with the criteria that are listed. The Republican chairman's statement that all this effort was done to "extinguish an existing Republican Senate seat" implies that he believes that districts should be developed to accommodate a particular party. He should be aware that under the guidelines of the constitution it is specifically stated: "Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates."
As a member of the Republican Party since the early 1960s, I find his actions on preparing to spend millions of dollars to back a referendum to have the maps withdrawn very shortsighted. In fact the Yolo County Republican Central Committee has voted to oppose the referendum. Instead of spending millions of dollars on a referendum campaign, the Republican Party should use that money to identify electable candidates and provide them with the necessary funds to run a competitive campaign in the new districts developed by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Vincent Barabba is a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau.