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Mark DeSaulnier

IT'S TIME for the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors to fix the redistricting mess it created a decade ago.

In 2001, in a brutal display of power politics, a majority of the board shafted one of their colleagues by creating a district for her that stretched around Mount Diablo from Walnut Creek and the San Ramon Valley all the way to Knightsen and Discovery Bay.

They tried to dress up the move with false rhetoric about increasing the diversity of districts even though it divided up the voting strength of Latinos. The driving force was really the raw political ambition of then-Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier of Concord and his push to undermine his political rival, then-Supervisor Donna Gerber of Walnut Creek.

DeSaulnier was also carrying the water for a key political ally in the development community who despised Gerber for her strong attempts to slow growth in the San Ramon Valley. So cutting some of her strongest supporters out of her supervisorial district fit nicely into the political payback.

DeSaulnier and Gerber both harbored dreams of moving on to the state Legislature and anticipated a future showdown in a Democratic primary race for state Assembly. What they didn't know at the time was that the legislative redistricting later that year would leave them in separate districts, never having to face each other in an election.

Gerber lost her Assembly bid in 2002 and soon after resigned her seat on the county board of supervisors to become a lobbyist for the California Nurses Association. Today, she is retired. DeSaulnier waited until 2006 to successfully run for an open Assembly seat and, in 2008, was elected to the state Senate.

There's a certain irony that the DeSaulnier-Gerber Democratic infighting eventually led to the election of another Republican to the county board: Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay now holds Gerber's old seat.

The boundaries of that district make even less sense today than they did 10 years ago. With the tremendous growth in East Contra Costa and the San Ramon Valley, there is no rational reason to continue tying the two geographically, ethnically and economically divergent areas together as the board of supervisors draws new district boundaries this year during the once-a-decade redistricting process.

There is no reason to draw boundaries that require a county supervisor to circumnavigate Mount Diablo, driving more than an hour from one end of a district to the other.

The population shift to the east and south means the county can easily be divided into logical, more compact districts that tie together neighboring communities, minimize the need to divide cities and ensure that minorities, especially Latinos, have a political voice -- a key legal criterion for redistricting.

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It could have been done 10 years ago, but for DeSaulnier's self-centered political ambitions. It's even more easily done today. Using new data from the 2010 census, I've crunched the numbers to see how the county population can be evenly divided five ways.

The logical solution provides an East County district from Antioch to the county line; a shoreline district from Pittsburg to Pinole; a West County district for part of Pinole and the cities south of there; a district combining Lamorinda and the San Ramon Valley; and a Central County district that includes Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Clayton and most of Concord.

The plan respects the home addresses of the current supervisors, so that no two are in the same district. At most, the plan requires dividing two cities, Concord (the most logical city to divide since it's the county's largest) and Pinole. There is no need for maintaining the current crazy division of Walnut Creek into three districts.

This year, if Contra Costa supervisors can set aside personal ambition, and put the public good ahead of developer interests, they should have no problem fixing the county's political map.

Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or dborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com. To see the numerical breakdown by city of his proposed redistricting plan, go to contracostatimes.com/daniel-borenstein.