Tulare and Kings County residents ask CA Redistricting Commission to slide Fresno into another district, keep the city of Visalia together and create a more rural district
TULARE COUNTY – Local residents seem pretty accepting of the three new draft maps for Congressional districts across which Tulare County will be represented. The only problem they had was the inclusion of the state’s fifth largest city, Fresno, in one of the predominantly rural districts.
The residents, most of which did not provide their name, spoke during a Nov. 17 Congressional draft map input session of the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is overseeing the redrawing of Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and State Board of Equalization districts to reflect shifts in population following the 2020 Census.
The commission format was created when California voters passed the Voters First Act in 2008 to draw new political boundaries following the decennial census. The 14-member commission is made up of five Republicans, five Democrats, and four not affiliated with either political party to draw district lines in conformity with strict, nonpartisan rules designed to create districts of relatively equal population for fair representation for all Californians.
The meeting was streamed live streamed from the commission’s web site, www.wedrawthelinesca.org, where the proposed new California Congressional maps can be found. The Fresno Tulare Congressional District draft map includes all of the city of Fresno, as well as Selma, Reedley, Sanger and Kingsburg in Fresno County and the cities of Dinuba, Tulare, Exeter, Farmersville, Lindsay and Woodlake but splits Visalia. In Kings County, the proposed district would include Hanford, Lemoore and Lemoore Naval Air Station. The other half of Visalia is encompassed in a Fresno-Kern district which takes in Clovis as well as mountain communities in eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, such as Squaw Valley, Three Rivers, Springville and Tehachapi. The rest of Tulare County communities are currently in the KingTulaKern district, including the city of Porterville and unincorporated communities of Tipton, Terra Bella, Pixley, and Earlimart.
Most of the speakers who commented on the map were from Tulare and Kings counties and requested the commission remove the city of Fresno from the FresnoTulare district and shift it northeast into the StanisFresno district, which includes more cities under the representation of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, such as Kerman, Caruthers, Mendota and Firebaugh. In order to balance the map, they suggested moving all of Visalia into the FresnoTulare district and adding portions of rural Kings County, such as Huron and Coalinga.
A female caller, who only identified herself as Ilida, and an unnamed male caller, both residents of rural Tulare County, provided the same comment, a seemingly prepared statement. “As a rural resident of Tulare County and the proposed Fresno-Tulare Congressional district, I feel the district should rather incorporate more of rural Tulare County to maintain the rural nature of the district,” both said.
Mary Silveira, a rural resident of Kings County, and another woman, only identified as Alyssa, made similar, seemingly prepared statements.
“I feel the city of Fresno does not belong with the current draft of the Fresno-Tulare district because of its urban population and does not affect the overarching communities of interest within this district,” both said. “The Fresno-Tulare district instead should include a larger portion of Kings County which would preserve the rural roots of the districts’ communities of interest.”
Victor Chavrine of Armona said splitting Kings County into two districts would hinder the ability of community services districts, which primarily provide utilities, fire service and public works administration to unincorporated communities, to work together to advocate for projects and funding.
“By splitting us up, we lose our power and lose our voice due to the unincorporated status of a lot of our communities within the [Kings] county and with Tulare [County],” Chavrine said. “I ask you remove the city of Fresno from the district and make Kings County whole.”
Rural Fresno County residents agreed. An unidentified man who said he lived in a rural Fresno County community, also suggested moving Fresno into the StanisFresno district and including more rural communities in the Fresno-Tulare district. “As a resident of rural Fresno County, I understand how different the city’s urban population is from the rest of the district’s rural communities.”
Under the current proposed map, the FresnoTulare district would have a total population of 759,894. The citizen voting age population (CVAP), the number of people eligible to vote but not necessarily the number of registered voters, was 53.11% Latino, 32.81% White, 7.34% Asian, 4.79% Black and 1.12% Native American.
Lori Pesante, government affairs chief for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, said the FresnoTulare draft, like nearly all of the proposed Congressional districts, fell short of its desired threshold of being 55% Latino. While technically meeting the California Voting Rights Act requirements for having a minority majority district, Pesante said 55% is a more realistic number to have a Latino majority vote in an election. The California Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 2001 prohibits political boundaries which dilute the vote of protected groups, such as Latinos.
“As Central Valley residents we know that CVAP and other metrics have to be very high for VRA districts to actually be effective,” Pesante said. “Your current draft maps at all levels do not meet these effective thresholds and we fear you are creating districts that will completely disenfranchise our Latino populations and other communities of color for the next 10 years, mostly centered around the Bakersfield area.”
Eric Payne, executive director of Central Valley Urban Institute, said neither proposed maps nor the Dolores Huerta maps went far enough to protect black voters. He said splitting Visalia and parts of Tulare would segment the Valley’s second largest African American populations in the Visalia-Tulare area. He also said including the of Fresno in the Tulare-Fresno district cut off the city’s black population from emerging black communities west of Highway 99.
“Black families here in the Central Valley, have largely continued to be split and paired with unfavorable communities within their respective jurisdiction,” Payne said.
There was very little discussion about the KingTulaKern district, where most of the rest of Tulare County rests in the draft maps, which also had a Latino CVAP of 53% and below the Dolores Huerta Foundation’s desired 55% threshold. That district had a similar percent of eligible white and Native American voters but smaller populations of Black and Asian voters. There was even less comment on the Fresno-Kern district by Tulare County residents where the CVAP was 60.17% white and only 25.94% Latino.