Data delay weighs on California redistricting plans

By Dan Walters | | 

The California constitution commands that by Aug. 15, the state’s independent redistricting commission “shall approve four final maps that separately set forth the district boundary lines for the congressional, senatorial, assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts.”

It’s not going to happen. 

The commission needs data from the 2020 census to do its work and last July, the state Supreme Court granted the Legislature’s emergency petition for a four-month extension of the deadline to Dec. 15, citing pandemic-caused delays in completing the census. 

A Dec. 15 deadline would be cutting it very close to have new maps available when candidates start filing paperwork for the 2022 elections early next year. However, the Dec. 15 deadline may not stand either.

Last Friday, the Census Bureau announced that it will not release the all-important numbers until Sept. 30, five months later than its original March 31 release date and two months later than its revised July 31 date on which the Supreme Court’s extension was based. 

A Sept. 30 release would give the 14-member redistricting commission just 2 1/2 months to meet the Dec. 15 deadline, perhaps an impossibility. 

The raw data must be digested by UC-Berkeley’s Statewide Database before preliminary maps can be devised. They then must be aired at public hearings, followed by final district-by-district — and often neighborhood-by-neighborhood — commission decisions on 120 legislative districts, four Board of Equalization districts and an unknown number of congressional districts. 

Unknown? California has 53 congressional seats now, but its relatively slow population growth over the last decade, a full percentage point below the national rate, means the state will likely lose one, and perhaps two of those seats. 

The latest delay in census data could require the Supreme Court to push back the commission’s Dec. 15 deadline even more, but that could collide with the Feb. 14, 2022, opening of candidate filing for the affected offices. 

We may not know when the Citizens Redistricting Commission will do its job, but we do know it won’t be an easy one. 

California is the nation’s most complex state and its first experience with commission-drawn maps, after the 2010 census, was marked by fierce jousting among seemingly countless ethnic, geographic, partisan and sexual orientation interest groups because the stakes are so heavy. 

The new maps will strongly affect who wields political power in the state for the next decade, and while Democrats will continue to be the dominant party, no matter how they are drawn, the party has no shortage of internal cultural and ideological power struggles. 

The dramatic decline in California’s population growth to well under 1% a year will reduce its share of congressional seats and variations within the state will affect the maps in both geographic and demographic terms. 

Coastal metropolitan areas have been growing more slowly than inland counties. Comparing 2010 census data with the latest pre-census population estimates from the state Department of Finance reveals that collectively the state’s three most populous counties — Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange — have grown more slowly than the state as a whole. 

Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth-most populous counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, have grown markedly faster than their coastal neighbors and thus should gain legislative and congressional seats. 

A similar phenomenon is evident in Northern California as well, with the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area growing more slowly than inland counties to the east, such as Sacramento and San Joaquin. 

These trends will be reflected in the new maps, whenever they finally emerge from what has become a very uncertain and messy process.

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. Elk Grove News is a media partner of 

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Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.


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