Once every 10 years, the district lines at every level of government are subject to being redrawn. Why should you care?
A group of Three Rivers residents were scratching their heads a while ago when they realized their daily lives are split between two congressional districts. Their homes are in one district (23), but most of the rest of their lives take place in another. Their children attend public high school in Woodlake; they do their shopping in Exeter and Visalia; much of their medical care is in Visalia; many of them work in all the above; and they feel culturally connected to the Hwy. 198 corridor community—all of which are in district 22.
In other words, they have no say, at a congressional level, in what happens in the places where they spend significant portions of their daily lives.
“For us living in Three Rivers, our community is the towns and rural areas down the hill from us, as well as Sequoia National Park,” says resident Carol Berryhill. “We travel to Visalia and other towns down the hill for our basic needs of medical care, shopping, often church fellowship, and high school and community college education. Our voice would have more impact and our needs would be more fairly met if we were joined with our ‘down the hill’ neighbors.”
Rather, they are lumped into the Bakersfield/Lancaster congressional district, even though most of them typically never go to those cities in an average year.
“I moved to Three Rivers 11 years ago… I pay property taxes in Tulare County and conduct no business with Kern County,” notes Betty Avalos. “Also, Visalia is much closer and convenient for shopping and health care.”
This is the once-in-a-decade opportunity for Three Rivers residents, for example, to help the California Citizens Redistricting Commission understand what needs to be done to make districting in our area more sensible.
Citizens redistricting commission
The procedure at the state level—where congressional districts are determined—is now underway. Our Golden State leads the country in being the first ever to create an independent citizens redistricting commission, taking this task out of the hands of politicians.
The commission is made of 14 citizens of differing backgrounds. There are five Democrats, five Republicans and four “other” political designations making nonpartisan decisions together based on population count, racial equity, geographic contiguity and other community determinants.
A decade ago, this commission did not include a single person from the Valley. That gap was filled this time around, with two commissioners from our Valley (both from San Joaquin County).
Communities of interest
One of the main criteria the commission is mandated to take into account is “communities of interest,” defined as:
“… a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation.”
This is pretty much anything locals consider it to be, with the exception of political parties. Public input is most useful here.
Any individual or group can offer their definition of a community of interest (COI). It is not necessary to check all boxes. In fact, one is enough. It just so happens that the Three Rivers example checks several of them:
Geographic: Lake Kaweah and Sequoia National Park feature prominently in the lives of folks all along this strip of Hwy. 198, known as the “Gateway to the Sequoias.”
Economic: Many in Three Rivers commute to jobs in Exeter, Farmersville and Visalia; and do much of their shopping in these towns.
Transportation infrastructure: Their most important artery is Highway 198. The closest airport is in Visalia, as is their connection to Amtrak.
Educational: Their children attend Woodlake High School. Higher education is typically through College of the Sequoias, or the Fresno State and Fresno Pacific satellite campuses in Visalia.
Medical: Most of their care is provided by Kaweah-Delta Hospital and Kaweah Health system, Family Health Care Network, and many private practices in Visalia.
Cultural: Sequoia Symphony Orchestra, the Fox Theatre, Arts Visalia, Rawhide Ballpark, movie theaters, restaurants, Woodlake Rodeo and numerous other events provide frequent entertainment for those living in Three Rivers.
Government services: As Three Rivers is part of Tulare County, all their relevant offices are located in Visalia—even the closest congressional district office. “I… have never conducted business of any type in Bakersfield, where our congressional headquarters are located,” Avalos notes. The Visalia Dist. 22 office is three times closer.
“The strong connection Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park have with the city of Visalia and all the valley communities in between is long-standing, significant, and mutually beneficial,” notes Maggie Bloetscher, a 43-year resident of Three Rivers. “It just makes sense for the Three Rivers-Visalia COI to be included and represented in our next congressional district.”
What you can do
Participate in the commission’s June 19 (with Spanish interpretation), July 12 and/or August 4 listening events; you can phone your comments in. Find details at WeDrawTheLinesCA.org/meetings.
Create, and advocate for, what you consider a COI and/or draw your own boundaries for state and congressional districts at the commission’s web site: DrawMyCACommunity.org.
The site starts with some simple, straightforward questions to help you describe your community. (It also asks why you think you do not belong in the district you are now in.)
Step 2 is the mapping tool, which is really handy, but might take a few minutes to get used to.
When you’re happy with your map, submit it to the commission. You can e-mail it to anyone else you want, too. This way, other people can endorse your map, and let the commission know. Anyone can submit ideas by mail or on-line, anytime, now through the summer.
For those interested in the Three Rivers situation, contact Maggie Bloetscher at [email protected]. Go to DrawMyCACommunity.org, and endorse the “Three Rivers-Visalia COI.” Or draw your own map. No need to draw an entire district; just let the commission know that—whatever lines they draw—to make sure Three Rivers, Visalia and the towns in between all get put in the same district. If anyone in Woodlake/Exeter/Farmersville/Visalia feel the same way, they, too, can let the commission know.
For more info, contact the League of Women Voters of Tulare County, at 559-854-1740 or at our web site: my.lwv.org/california/tulare-county.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization, which encourages informed and active participation in government, and works to increase understanding of major public policy issues.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.