A map of the current 4th City Council District with the whale portion highlighted in blue.

Long Beach’s “whale tail” is a playful name among political insiders for one of the most gerrymandered parts of the current City Council map. But with the city embarking on a new process to redraw political lines, this whale’s tail may be endangered.

Driven in part by a former councilman’s desire to have his field office in El Dorado Park, the oddly shaped boundary lines were drawn 20 years ago to connect the park with the rest of the 4th City Council District, which includes Los Altos, the Traffic Circle area and parts of Central Long Beach.

The “tail” that envelops part of El Dorado Park Park and its nature center is connected to the rest of the district by the last few hundred feet of the westbound lane of Atherton Street.

A map of Long Beach’s current City Council district lines.

Outside of park space and the nature center, the tail includes only about a dozen homes totaling just 29 residents, according to estimated population data. It doesn’t include the El Dorado Park duck pond, which was drawn into the 5th District.

With Long Beach’s new Independent Redistricting Commission starting its work, the tail could be lopped off. It’s likely a prime target for the commission, whose job is to redraw recognizable and practical City Council districts without political bias.

Over the past few weeks, the commission has begun asking residents which communities deserve to be kept together in voting blocs.

It’s a much different process than the one that sprouted the whale tail 20 years ago.

It was added during the 2001 redistricting process at the direction of then-Councilman Dennis Carroll who sought a portion of El Dorado to have a more even distribution of park space.

“This is designed to distribute parks in a fair way,” Carroll told the Press-Telegram in 2001, adding that he had been working out of his car and including a portion of the park in his district would provide an established space for a field office.

Carroll, who is now a commissioner in the Los Angeles County court system, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying through his office that he’s “no longer involved in politics.”

A vehicle makes its way along Atherton Street under the 405 freeway which leads to the whale tail of District 4 in Long Beach Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Prior to 1986, much of El Dorado Park was in the 4th District, but as populations in Downtown and Central Long Beach became denser, those districts shrunk and shifted west. Districts in East Long Beach, made up largely of single-family neighborhoods, grew larger.

Eventually, the park was absorbed by the 5th District during the 1986 redistricting cycle and remained that way until 2001 when Carroll’s plan to annex part of the park was approved by a majority of the City Council.

Then-Councilwoman Jackie Kell opposed the acquisition for a number of reasons, including the fact that her field office was located in the portion of the park Carroll sought. It also included the community garden where she and her husband, former Mayor Ernie Kell, grew tomatoes.

“Well excuse me, anyone in the city can come to El Dorado Park,” Kell said in 2001, in response to Carroll’s park equity argument.

Unlike back then, council members are no longer directly involved in the drawing of their districts. For the first time this year, it’s being handled by an Independent Redistricting Commission that voters created when they approved Measure DDD in 2018.

The guidelines adopted as part of the ballot language suggest that the tail’s days are numbered because of the list of criteria the commission will consider when drawing new lines. They include minimizing the divisions of neighborhoods, making district lines easily identifiable and understandable to voters and making districts as compact as possible, among other criteria.

The park’s current inclusion in the 4th District is technically contiguous but it shears off a portion of the El Dorado Park South neighborhood as it whips its way north. It also ignores a major topographical feature—the 405 Freeway—that serves as almost all of the boundary between the 4th and the 5th districts.

The tail makes the district neither compact nor easily identifiable. These are all factors the commission will consider while redrawing lines this fall.

The commission isn’t expected to start drawing new lines until after it receives Census data, which is likely to be released at the end of September. However, the 4th and 5th districts are two of five council districts expected to have grown in population with the 5th projected to grow by 1,375 residents. This is potentially the largest increase in the city, according to estimates from the 2019 American Community Survey.

These shifts in population could bring dramatic change to some districts, including spelling the end of the whale tail.

Councilman Daryl Supernaw, the current representative of the 4th District, inherited the tail when he took office in 2015. Unlike 20 years ago when the City Council helped draw the maps, Supernaw and the rest of the council won’t have a say in how the districts are shaped.

While Supernaw acknowledges that you don’t have to live in a specific district to go to any of the city’s parks, having the city’s largest park split between two districts has been beneficial for the park because there’s an incentive for two different council officers to kick in money for improvements.

“There’s simply not enough money to go around, and if you can split the cost with someone, that’s great,” Supernaw said.

Regardless of what happens to the tail, Supernaw said he’s committed to supporting whatever ends up in the 4th District.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.