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redistricting lines

Richmond dealing with lines of dissatisfaction

on July 1, 2011

Since a state citizens’ commission proposed new Congressional district boundaries earlier this summer that would divide Richmond, there’s been no shortage of opinions from Richmond residents and leaders – and most of them think it’s a bad idea.

The dissent stems from three main concerns: That the new lines would break most of Richmond away from Contra Costa County and into Alameda County, that the line runs through the city itself, and that much of Richmond would lose the representation of a homegrown congressman with deep knowledge of the city and its interests.

“We have heard from people who are concerned with Richmond being separated from Contra Costa County in the Congress,” said Daniel Weiss, chief of staff for Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez), who has represented Richmond in Congress for decades. “But, of course, George doesn’t have any say over what the lines will look like.”

On June 10, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission released proposed maps for Congressional, State Assembly, State Senate and Board of Equalization district reapportionment. Redistricting occurs every decade after U.S. Census results reveal how populations have grown, shrunk or shifted within representative districts. (look for upcoming meetings and log your letters here)

But the proposed redrawing of the boundary lines marking the 9th and 7th Congressional districts have become a divisive issue in Richmond because, well, they would literally divide the city. (see a detailed map here) Miller’s 7th District has encompassed Richmond and most of Contra Costa County since the mid-1970s. But if the changes are approved, most of Richmond would be placed into the 9th District, which is represented by Oakland-based Democrat Barbara Lee and comprises Alameda County cities.

The dividing line through Richmond seems a curious feat of inscrutable logic: Most of Richmond would be moved into Lee’s district, with a slice of the city’s eastern reaches retained in Miller’s. The boundary follows Giant Road from the north, cutting east at Costa Avenue and zig-zagging south and east several times until steadying at San Pablo Avenue near the Richmond Annex, the city’s southern border.

Councilman Tom Butt argues that the proposed lines seem to violate a tenet of the redistricting mandate, which is to try to not split up cities.

“Richmond would be split, with its entire eastern half (mostly El Sobrante), staying in Miller’s district,” Butt wrote in an e-mail, going on to point out that such division appears to conflict with a state Constitutional requirement that redistricting “Respect cities, counties, communities of interest and neighborhoods to the extent possible without violating the requirements of the preceding criteria.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is similarly concerned. In an email statement she sent to the Redistricting Commission on June 25, McLaughlin wrote: “Although I am not taking a position regarding in which district Richmond is placed, I strongly object to dividing Richmond and strongly support redrawing the lines in a way that keeps Richmond unified. Community ties run deep in Richmond. One of our themes for ongoing community development is: One Richmond!”

Both Miller and Lee, who has been in office since 1998, have little to say about the process, which they are by law prohibited from influencing in any way. Both are veterans of past reapportionments, which occur every 10 years.

But as a Richmond native whose father, George Miller Jr., was a labor organizer and Democratic State Senator, Miller does have a certain affinity for this portion of his district, Weiss said. “George is familiar with what it’s like to no longer represent communities he is accustomed to representing,” Weiss said.  “But it is true that he was born in Richmond, that his father worked in Richmond, and that he has a great relationship in this community.”

In a statement from her Bay Area offices, Lee’s spokesperson Ricci Graham declined any comment about the prospect of Lee representing Richmond.  “Our Congressional office will not comment on the redistricting process but the Congresswoman respects whatever final decision is made.  Congresswoman Lee has been and will continue to be focused on addressing the needs of all of her constituents,” Graham wrote in an email.

But residents, community leaders and councilmembers have not been restrained in commenting on the merits of the reapportionment.

At the June 21 City Council meeting, the council passed a symbolic resolution opposing the proposed redistricting by a 5-2 vote, with only McLaughlin and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles dissenting. Beckles has been one of the few leaders who has expressed optimism about being part of Lee’s 9th Congressional district, saying both that she admires Lee as a leader and that Richmond may be a better cultural, political and social fit with East Bay cities like Berkeley and Oakland.

But the loudest voices have adamantly opposed the new lines. Jim McMillan, a longtime resident and former city councilman, said the new lines will hurt Richmond, regardless of who is in congressional office.

“West Contra Costa County is a very strong political factor, an entity that has grown,” McMillan said. “We have political strength as long as we continue to be one body, not if we’re cut in two and divided among Contra Costa and Alameda counties.”

Councilman Butt has his own practical concerns.

“We have three decades of relationships with Miller and his staff,” Butt said. “We’d have to start from scratch (with a new Congressional representative).”

Past RichmondConfidential articles on Congressional redistricting:

->New maps

->Council divided

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