Census data is out; here’s what it means and what happens next

The citizen panel charged with using new Census numbers to redraw the boundaries of City Council districts is finally about to begin its work.

Local Census data was released Thursday, which will give the 13-member Independent Redistricting Commission the information it needs to assign residents to one of nine districts that each elect a representative on the City Council.

The new numbers show that while the city only grew about 1%, the nine districts did not grow evenly.

The 7th District, which includes West Long Beach, California Heights and parts of Bixby Knolls, saw the largest population gain in the city, while the city’s 1st District in Downtown and the 6th District in Central Long Beach saw the largest losses.

The city’s charter requires that district populations be more or less even, but allows for a total deviation of 10% from the “ideal” population, which would be one-ninth of the city’s entire population. Based on new Census data, the current district lines have a deviation of over 14% and that will require some shifting of district lines over the next few months.

That process will begin Oct. 6, the first of five meetings through Nov. 17 that could result in a new map being selected by the commission that would lock in political lines for the next 10 years. Some commissioners have said the tight schedule does not leave enough time for public input to be heard by the commission, but the maps must be approved by Dec. 7.

“The schedule is pretty inflexible,” Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said during a commission meeting Wednesday night. “That’s how it’s built.”

There is a chance that additional meetings could be added by the commission, but the tight timeline dictated by the late release of Census data to cities across the county means that the next 10-plus weeks will likely be the last window of opportunity for the public to have its voice included in the process.

Earlier Wednesday the California Supreme Court denied an appeal by the statewide redistricting commission to extend the deadline to mid-January.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why is redistricting important?

It’s a legal obligation that every city, county and state is required to undergo after each Census to ensure that the voting districts in its jurisdiction have roughly the same amount of people in them.

In Long Beach it will determine who can run for office; you have to live in the district represent it as a City Council member or school board member. It will also determine when you will vote.

If lines shift, some residents would be moved out of their district that was due to vote in the upcoming June election, which means some people could end up voting in back-to-back elections while others will have to wait a total of six years to vote for their council representative. The new map adopted by the commission will be in place for the next decade.

How will the maps be drawn?

The maps won’t necessarily be drawn by the commissioners, but the final one will eventually need to be approved by a supermajority of the commission, meaning at least nine of the 13 members must vote for the final map.

A consultant hired by the city, Redistricting Partners, will draw maps according to commission recommendations, which could be based off of maps submitted by the public over the past few months outlining their specific communities of interest. The consultant advised commissioners not to submit maps they’ve personally drawn and instead make their suggestions during an open meeting.

When will the maps be approved?

The commission has a tentative schedule outlined that could see it adopt a final map as soon as Nov. 17, however, the deadline is Dec. 7. The new maps will be used in the June 2022 primary election.

A handful of draft maps are expected to be selected at the commission’s Oct. 20 meeting and an Oct. 27 meeting is scheduled to hear public feedback on the maps. To become a draft version, a map needs to be supported by three members of the commission with at least two of those members living in separate existing council districts.

The final map hearing date is scheduled for Nov. 10.

Any map the commission votes on must be publicly posted for seven days before it can adopt it so the current schedule allows for the commission to propose new maps and push back the adoption dates a few weeks. But it must adopt a map by Dec. 7 for it to be turned into Los Angeles County election officials in time to be used for the next election cycle.

What happens if the commission can’t get nine votes in favor of a map?

That’s where things can get murky. The City Charter says that the commission has six months from when it received final Census data to adopt a map. However, the 2020 Census was unique for a number of reasons including the pandemic, which delayed the release of data to the commission. The commission received final data from the Census this week.

Under the charter that means it would have until March to approve a map, but because county election officials need maps six months in advance of the election to adjust precincts to ensure that the right residents get the right ballots for the elections, the commission likely needs to vote on one by Dec. 7.

If the commission can’t approve a map before the charter’s designated timeframe, or it approves maps that violate provisions of the charter meant to protect voting rights, a court could step in to draw the lines for the city.

How can I get involved?

There are a number of public meetings leading up to a planned adoption date in November. There are also two mapping tools that the commission has been soliciting input from the community and the city is hosting a series of workshops to help residents better understand how to use them over the next few weeks. Map submissions need to be submitted before Oct. 12 at midnight to be part of the packet that the commission will consider.

It’s expected that every meeting after Sept. 30 will be in-person only because statewide emergency orders that required public meetings to be held virtually or in a hybrid setting will expire.

A list of the upcoming map drawing workshops can be found here. A schedule of the commissions’s upcoming meetings can be found here.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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