Santa Clara County lawmakers will focus on three possible maps for changing local political boundaries.
The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to advance three maps for further consideration at a meeting later this month. The maps being advanced are titled Yellow, Purple and Equal and Equitable (EE) 2.0. The final boundaries must be adopted by Dec. 15.
Supervisors Susan Ellenberg, Cindy Chavez and Otto Lee voted in favor of advancing the three maps. Supervisors Mike Wasserman and Joe Simitian voted against it.
All three maps preserve a majority-minority Asian Pacific Islander district, a Latino influence district and split San Jose across numerous districts. They also all unify Sunnyvale into a single district. There are a couple significant differences with where to place Los Gatos and how to balance out population imbalances.
The most controversial proposal is the Yellow map — also known as the Unity map — created by local labor and civil rights groups who say it will boost representation for lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Opponents claim it disenfranchises conservative voters by splitting Los Gatos and Almaden Valley from the traditionally red-leaning District 1.
Wasserman has concerns about the "pitchfork" shape of the Yellow map and the fact that it would start with a high population deviation, referring to the population imbalance in different districts.
"That's a recipe for not what we want, if we want to keep each supervisor having equal representation through the process," he said.
Redistricting requires redrawing political districts every decade to account for population changes. Santa Clara County grew by 8.9% over the past decade, rising from 1,781,731 residents to 1,940,254. Many groups see redistricting as an opportunity to increase power or fix political imbalances. For example, in San Jose, where redistricting is also taking place, advocates want to maximize Latino representation to correct decades of political marginalization.
Simitian, who favors the EE 2.0 map, said he's concerned about the maps proposing to unify Sunnyvale, currently split between Districts 3 and 5. He said the city voted earlier this year to support remaining split.
"If you asked me what the best interest of Sunnyvale is, I would say having two voices on the board when you're the second largest city," Simitian said, noting that San Jose is split between all five districts. "(It's) frankly not only appropriate, but more equitable."
Chavez favors the Yellow map, but said she's conscious of concerns raised by locals from Los Gatos and Almaden Valley who face the prospect of being separated from District 1.
"I'm listening very carefully to what others are saying about not splitting communities of interest," Chavez said.
Numerous public commenters railed against the Yellow map for splitting rural Almaden Valley and Los Gatos from the rest of south county. Most spoke in favor of the EE 2.0 Map, a proposal advanced by Wasserman, which is the only map that keeps Los Gatos and Almaden Valley in District 1.
"Definitely keep Los Gatos, the town, with our rural mountain area," said Catherine Somers, executive director of the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce. "We're kind of one and the same."
Dennis Byron, a Los Gatos resident and real estate developer, asked the board to consider the EE 2.0 map.
"We have more in common with the South Valley than we do with people like in Saratoga or San Jose," Byron said.
Some residents complained that the Yellow map was driven by political forces.
"The yellow unity map (is) unified weirdly in a way that benefits only political activists and powerful political interests," said Shane Patrick Connolly, a Willow Glen resident.
The map is supported by the South Bay Labor Council, Working Partnerships USA, the Asian Law Alliance, the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, the Latino Leadership Alliance and the La Raza Roundtable.
Several residents defended the Yellow map as the best way to address the historic inequities created by redlining and redistricting that marginalized communities of color in the county.
"This map isn't about politics, it's about people," said Krista De La Torre, a political organizer with South Bay Labor Council, adding that it was developed by civil rights leaders and is beneficial for working families.
If approved, the Yellow map would potentially exclude two candidates currently vying for the District 1 seat on the Board of Supervisors — Los Gatos Vice Mayor Rob Rennie and former San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis.
Khamis, a former Republican, told San Jose Spotlight he objects to the map on a matter of principle, not because of how it could potentially impact future elections.
"I don't care about losing a neighborhood or adding a neighborhood somewhere else, that stuff doesn't strike me as unethical," Khamis said. "What's unethical is a political organization submitting a map for its own political well-being."
Jeffrey Buchanan, policy director of Silicon Valley Rising Action, pushed back against the claim that the Yellow map is a form of gerrymandering. He said after doing research into communities of interest in the region, he struggles to see meaningful connections between Los Gatos and Almaden Valley with the rest of south county. Socioeconomic data shows Los Gatos is a closer fit with District 5 than south county, he said.
"It's really not about politics or how straight and pretty of a line you can draw — it's about people and how people relate to each other," Buchanan said.
This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight.