A path to a more fair and transparent redistricting process

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Long Beach’s 8th District Councilman Al Austin II, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

By Al Austin II

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider placing a series of amendments to the city charter before the voters in the November 2018 election.

Among those items being considered are two recommendations I first brought to the City Council last November as part of a “good government” package to ensure confidence, transparency and public participation in local government.

Those items are to establish an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and to establish an Ethics Commission.

In an increasing number of cities and counties throughout California, there is a movement to advance the concept that voters choose their representatives, not the other way around.

In other states, we are seeing court challenges and blatant examples of gerrymandering that are denying the true voice of a majority of voters to be heard.

In California, voters approved Proposition 11 in 2008, which created the Citizens Redistricting Commission, largely ending the practice of gerrymandering of district lines for state representatives.

This practice is now being implemented at the local level. Cities and counties throughout the state, including Sacramento, Oakland, San Diego, Berkeley and Modesto, as well as Los Angeles County, have enacted citizen redistricting commissions in the past decade.

Many residents in Long Beach recall the last time the city went through the redistricting process in 2011, which became contentious and divisive.  Residents in some neighborhoods packed community meetings and mounted yard signs to protest some of the proposed maps, leaving some lingering resentment and bitterness over the political fight.

What is now before the City Council to consider placing on the ballot is a 13-member Redistricting Commission that is truly independent.

The proposal draws on best practices identified by California Common Cause, a leading nonpartisan, grassroots organization that promotes open, honest and responsive government. Local organizations and stakeholders have also reviewed the plans and provided constructive input.

The applicants for the commission will be vetted by an independent panel to ensure they meet the criteria, and there are prohibitions against being a city employee or lobbyist, as well as applicants or family member who have been a candidate, staff member or consultant to an elected official within the past eight years.

Nine of the commissioners will be selected at random, with one commissioner being selected from each council district.  Those nine commissioners will then select the remaining four commissioners and two alternates from the qualified pool. The selection process will be completely independent from the mayor and City Council.

The commission is charged with drawing districts of nearly equal population after the Census that preserves communities of interest and minimizes the division of neighborhoods. It will be required to hold at least nine public meetings, one in each district, during its deliberations.

At the final public hearing on Tuesday, the City Council will receive public input and consider whether to place the redistricting commission, as well as the other proposed charter changes, before the voters in November.

The voters will then have the final say in this opportunity to move toward a more open and fair process in determining the districts from which our city’s future leaders will be elected.

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