A group of nearly 40 residents and city staffers held an in-depth discussion on the city’s redistricting process Monday night at the Ethel Hart Senior Center. Residents explored a range of topics, including the role of race in the process.
The city redesigns its City Council districts every 10 years by using U.S. Census data. The 2010 Census data that the city will use is expected to be released in April.
The new districts must be drawn up and finished six months after the Census data is available, according to the city’s charter. The city’s deadline for the 2011 redistricting process will be Sept. 27.
At Monday night’s redistricting forum, hosted by the Area 1 Neighborhood Advisory Group, residents asked city staffers questions on how the new council districts will be determined.
City staffers explained that racial distribution plays a role in the redistricting process. The city follows the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “prohibits minority vote dilution,” according to a redistricting guide published by the NAACP, the Asian American Justice Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Resident Priscilla Barnes asked city staff, “What would be an example of disenfranchisement in the city?”
“Splitting up Meadowview,” responded Scot Mende, the city’s new growth manager. “Suppose you have an African-American community and you manage to elect an African-American councilmember in that district. Now you split it up … They no longer have the voting power to elect someone of color.”
Barnes questioned the relevance of analyzing race in the redistricting process at the city level.
“Yes, it’s relevant,” said resident George Raya. “Otherwise you have an all-white council … There has to be a representative from everybody.”
Barnes said after the meeting that she thinks applying race to redistricting in the city “assumes separation” of people by ethnicity.
Meanwhile, in April, the City Council will establish a 13-member citizens’ committee to advise the redistricting process. The citizens’ group will hold its first meeting on April 25, Mende said. The committee’s meetings will be open to the public.
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Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.