Angst is running high among Contra Costa's five county supervisors as they move closer to a final, painful decision about where to draw their new political districts.

Relationships are deeply strained. Conversations have turned nasty. Motives are suspect. Conspiracy theories abound.

How did it get so bad?

For one thing, it was never going to be easy to equalize the districts' populations.

Change is hard. The relatively higher growth of the past decade in the eastern part of the county and San Ramon Valley meant its two supervisorial districts must shrink, while the other three must gain population.

But the ghosts of the 2001 redistricting fight, coupled with the personalities and disparate views among the supervisors, have exacerbated the natural tension.

Early on, the talk centered around the reversal of the 2001 redistricting map, when a board majority redrew the district of then-Supervisor Donna Gerber as an act of political vengeance. To dilute her political base, the board stretched the district from Walnut Creek to Discovery Bay and split East Contra Costa in half.

That was a mistake, says Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who helped orchestrate the 2001 vote.

He and Supervisor Federal Glover, of Pittsburg, now seek a return to a single East County supervisorial district and the creation of more geographically distinct districts they say more closely match the county.

Like icing on the cake, such a map would boost the vulnerable Glover's re-election prospects.


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But they need one more vote for a majority.

They knew Gerber's successor, Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay, would oppose their plan. Walnut Creek is Piepho's political base -- she is up for re-election in 2012 -- and she fervently believes East Contra Costa fares better with two supervisors.

Supervisor Gayle Uilkema would reject it, too. The Lafayette supervisor is also up for re-election in 2012 and has steadfastly stood behind maps that change her district as little as possible.

But Gioia and Glover believed they could bring along as the third vote their newest colleague, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, of Pleasant Hill.

They miscalculated.

Mitchoff blindsided them two weeks ago with her refusal to rally behind anything even close to their map and introduced her own version that features boundaries far more closely aligned with those of Uilkema and Piepho.

Her male colleagues have been wooing her, offering changes in their latest map that might satisfy her.

But she is reportedly furious over what she considers patronizing presumptions of her eventual compliance and failure to take seriously her assessment of her district's needs.

Sources say she is particularly disgusted by jabs from some movers and shakers who say she is abandoning her fellow Democrats on the board and siding with two Republican women.

Critics, meanwhile, say a thin-skinned Mitchoff is holding a critical map deal hostage over perceived personal slights.

They warn that her actions could lead to districts that favor development interests and point to lobbying in favor of a Piepho-friendly map by longtime political consultant Tom Koch, a proponent of the "New Farm" project in the Tassajara Valley.

However the supervisors vote Tuesday -- and it could go any number of ways -- the harsh words both in public and behind the scenes may long taint the working relationships on this board.

Gioia says negotiations have become so toxic that he is ready to follow the state's example and turn over redistricting to an independent citizen commission.

He'll need two more votes. Good luck with that.

GOT POLITICS? Read the Political Blotter at IBABuzz.com/politics.

MAP POSTSCRIPT: Walnut Creek Mayor Cindy Silva wants everyone to know that she "really, really, really, really, really, really" has no interest in running for county supervisor.

Never. Ever. No, really.

Her name surfaced in the redistricting rumor mill as a 2012 challenger, and speculation quickly turned to whether worried incumbents were jiggering the lines to keep her out.

The talk flummoxed Silva because she is vigorously lobbying supervisors to redraw Walnut Creek into a single district -- it's in three today -- and she feared some would misinterpret her motives.

Consider the record corrected.

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, IBABuzz.com/politics or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.