Visalia Council OKs new city districts for 2022 election

Boundaries slightly changed as city is able to rebalance population shifts over the last decade and create a second district with a Hispanic majority of eligible voters

VISALIA – Few Visalia residents will be voting in a different district this November after the city council approved a new map to rebalance population shifts over the last decade. 

At its Feb. 22 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved a new map redrawing its political boundaries following a six month process that included six public hearings. The city had to complete the redistricting process by April 17 in order to give city council candidates enough time to file for the first election under the new districts in November. 

The new map, numbered 106b, rebalanced the city’s population following the 2020 Census, divided the city along more vertical lines, and added another Latino majority district. The city’s current map had shifted with population changes in the last decade as the city expanded north. This created uneven districts as District 1 was nearly 20% larger than District 4. Under state and federal law, political boundaries are not allowed to deviate between the largest and smallest district by more than 10%, according to consultant Ken Chawkins with National Demographics Corporation (NDC). The new map also extended Districts 1 and 5 further south out of the council’s desire to get away from a north-south split in the city. 

More importantly, the new map created a second district, District 5, with a citizen voting age population (CVAP) that has a Hispanic majority, as 43% of eligible voters in the city are Hispanic. In other words, there are two districts, 4 and 5, where those eligible to vote are primarily Hispanic/Latino. District 4 remained a strong Hispanic majority citizen voting age population (H-CVAP) slightly changing from 64% to 63%. District 5 increased its H-CVAP from 46% to 51%. 

Maps 106 and 117 were the only maps selected by four of the five councilmembers for their top three choices because they reoriented district boundaries at the city’s fifth public hearing on redistricting on Feb. 7 council meeting. Map 106 in particular was noted for reorienting district boundaries from splitting the city into northern and southern districts along Highway 198 to border lines that crossed the highway vertically on the map. 

Councilmember Greg Collins asked the city’s consultant to combine and adjust maps 105 and 106 to reduce the peak deviation from just under the 10% requirement to less than a 3% difference and create two H-CVAP districts. 

Maile Melknonian, a Visalia resident and member of the Tulare County League of Women Voters, said she was encouraged by the city’s decision to create two H-CVAP majority districts but had hoped the city would have selected other maps with stronger Latino majorities. Advocates like Melkonian have called for H-CVAPs of 55% or to meet their definition of “strong” Hispanic majority districts, meaning the new District 5 fell about 3% short of the benchmark. The 55% majority rule was meant to offset the fact Latinos have lower voter turnout than white voters. In the 2020 election, only 39% of voters with Spanish last names cast a ballot in District 5 compared with 52% in District 4. By comparison, white voters represented more than half of the vote in all but one district despite being the minority in every district.  

The new map can be found on the city of Visalia redistricting site at www.visalia.city/drawvisalia.

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