County prepares to redraw supervisor districts

Rapid growth in Tulare may split city into multiple supervisor districts, creating significant changes to district boundaries in 2022

TULARE COUNTY – Supervisor districts may look very different in 2022 as population numbers released by the state show that Tulare County’s largest cities are growing much faster than small cities and unincorporated communities.

Visalia continued its steady growth in the last decade and currently has a population over 138,000. Tulare County’s largest city is now the 44th largest city in the state after seeing 11.4% in growth since 2010. Visalia city limits are currently split between three supervisorial districts (1, 3 and 4) and Tulare may need to be split between two districts as well.

In 2019, Tulare outpaced all cities in growth, adding more than 1,300 residents compared with Visalia’s 953 and Dinuba’s 305. Tulare ranked 28th on the state’s list of fastest growing cities for last year followed by Visalia at No. 38 and Dinuba at No. 96. Tulare has seen rapid growth in the last three years growing by 2.2% in 2017, 1.8% in 2018 and 2.07% in 2019. Tulare has grown by 12% since 2010 equal to about 8,500 more residents. The fastest growing city over the last decade has been Dinuba, which had nearly a 20% increase from 2010, or about 4,500 residents.

The only smaller city to see double digit growth was Lindsay, where the population has increased by 10.7% in the last decade. Porterville grew by 10%, followed by Farmersville (7.6%), Exeter (6.7%) and Woodlake (6.7%). Overall, Tulare County has grown by 8.5% or about 38,000 people.

Richard Eckoff of Springville, who chaired the 2011 redistricting committee, said the possibility of having to split Tulare and Porterville among multiple districts was already becoming a reality 10 years ago.

Counties are required to re-draw Supervisorial District boundaries every 10 years using numbers from the decennial census. The county population must be equally distributed among the five districts with a deviation of less than 10% between the districts. John Hess, assistant county administrative officer, said districts must be contiguous and should take into account natural and artificial barriers such as streets, rivers, smaller districts and city limits, if “practical.”

“For example, we can’t have city of Visalia all in one district, it’s not practical,” Hess said as Visalia represents more than a quarter (28%) of the county’s population.

Counties are also required to create a commission tasked with the redistricting process before it is presented to the board. At its May 12 meeting, the Board of Supervisors elected to use an advisory commission, where the board appoints members, instead of an independent commission, where supervisors do not directly appoint the board. Hess said the commission would consist of 11 members: five members selected by individual supervisors from their districts, five selected through a random drawing at a board meeting from each district, and one at-large member selected randomly during a board meeting.

“Going to the people, instead of the rulers, to make choices on how rulers are selected is the right choice here,” Eckoff said.

While the county has elected to use a similar mechanism to its redistricting process in 2011, there have been several changes in the last decade. State prisoners are now counted in the county and district of their last known address instead of the county where they are incarcerated. Districts must be drawn to encourage geographic compactness to ensure residents are within an acceptable proximity to have access to their representative.

Splitting cities is not the only issue with the redistricting process. The coronavirus pandemic has created its own unique challenges. Shelter-in-place rules across the nation forced the U.S. Census Bureau to extend its process for another three months. That means Tulare County will not receive numbers until April of next year but must complete the redistricting process by Aug. 3 2021 to meet requirements for voting on new districts in the primary election on March 8, 2022. Hess said there is a possibility that the 2022 primary election will be pushed back to June if the legislature approves and the Governor signs Senate Bill 970, which was introduced in the State Senate in February.

Once an advisory board is in place, Hess said there is a lot to do between April and July 2021 in order to meet the August deadline for a final map. The Board of Supervisors is required to hold one public hearing before the draft maps are drawn, after the maps are drawn with at least one of them happening during a weekend or evening, and a final hearing prior to adoption. Under state laws, the county must also develop a web site that includes an explanation of the redistricting process and procedures for testifying or submitting testimony, calendar of all hearings and workshops, post agendas and recordings for each hearing and workshop, display all draft maps and adopted maps and provide all information in multiple languages. The county has to maintain the site for 10 years.

“[Commission members] are looking at several meetings per week” in order to meet the timeline, Hess told the board.

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