After the last Chico City Council meeting (Feb. 1), where a presentation and public hearing signaled the start of redistricting, Councilman Sean Morgan made what might seem, to some observers of city government, a surprising admission: He appreciates Bryce Goldstein.
They—conservative council member and progressive planning commissioner—diverge politically, but Morgan’s esteem traces to the city’s initial district-setting two years ago, when Goldstein submitted map proposals that earned support across a spectrum of the community. The council ultimately voted to approve a different map, one that now must be reworked to incorporate population shifts indicated by 2020 census numbers released last year.
“Bryce did some pretty good maps last time,” Morgan told the CN&R by phone the morning after the council meeting. “People would tend to think, “You two don’t agree on anything.’ Wait a minute—we’re trying to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to have their voice heard in the vote and it doesn’t swing the city too far in one direction or the other.
“If it does do that, someone is going to scream, ‘Gerrymandering!’ There’s some districts that lean more left, there’s some districts that lean more right; it is what it is. Hopefully we can mix it up correctly. Frankly, I don’t want the extremists on either side running the city—believe me.”
For anyone interested in participating, the window for doing so is brief. The city is accepting maps like Goldstein’s, but only through Monday (Feb. 14).
“I’m glad that they have an online mapping tool this time,” Goldstein, who works as a transportation planner, said by phone Thursday (Feb. 10). “Last cycle, I kind of felt like I had an unfair advantage being able to download GIS [geographic information system] data to do this all, whereas other people had to look at an Excel spreadsheet and try to add up census blocs, and it was a lot harder for the general public to provide community input.
“I think the public input process has gotten better this time—and could still be better.”
Under provisions of the state FAIR MAPS Act and federal Voting Rights Act, districts must be demographically proportional: not vary too much in population and ethnic diversity. Claudio Gallegos, the city’s redistricting consultant, explained at the Feb. 1 meeting that Chico’s population deviation in the current map (which was made with 2010 census figures) is 19.85 percent across all districts, almost double the legal allowance.
As such, current Districts 4, 5 and 7 will need to increase; District 1 (Morgan’s) will need to shrink, by nearly 12 percent; while Districts 2 and 6 could remain the same size. Those boundary shifts will trigger review of minority groups’ representation. Unchanged from the initial districting is the election rotation—council seats for Districts 2, 4 and 6 will be contested this November.
The city has until mid-April to submit its final map to Butte County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Candace Grubbs, whose office places addresses in their districts. She told the CN&R by email that she does not certify maps for legal compliance; that is the city’s responsibility.
Chicoans have multiple avenues of input. The first is submitting maps, either on paper to the city clerk’s office or online via the redistricting portal, which Gallegos and his firm (ARDA Demographics) will vet for adherence to legal thresholds. Citizens and council members will give feedback on those submissions, along with maps drawn by Gallegos, at three more public hearings: March 1, March 15 and April 5.
“I think it’s really important that people watch what their elected officials are doing and provide their input throughout the process,” Goldstein said. “Creating maps is just one step in that process, and I think that in this case analyzing the maps that are supported by City Council members could be more important than drawing them in the first place—but I think both are important.
“It’s really difficult to find that balance between easily recognizable district boundaries and population balance and keeping neighborhoods together,” she added. “But I am going to draw some maps, at least one … [even though] I imagine the demographer is going to come back with maps that are pretty darn similar to what I would draw. I don’t think there are that many options for where it makes sense to draw districts.”
Goldstein already has worked with the city’s online districting tool. She said it’s an improvement over the 2020 option but has a few significant weaknesses—notably, not including population for the annexed Chapman and Mulberry neighborhoods, necessitating a skew of census in current District 7; and not offering means to delineate a community of interest (i.e., population a single district should encompass). Regarding the Chapman/Mulberry number, the instructions suggest underpopulating the district that includes the annexation by “1,000 people.”
“I hope that we as community members can supplement the most obvious geographic knowledge by providing our maps that show more detailed, fine-grained input on neighborhood continuity,” she said. “Even though it could be very easy for somebody from out of town to look at Google maps or drive around and say, ‘Hmm, that [physical barrier] would make sense as a district boundary,’ then to balance the population pick random census blocs … that’s where it gets tricky and that’s where you need community-of-interest testimony and local input.”
City of Chico redistricting schedule:
– Feb. 14: Public map submission deadline
– Feb. 22: Public maps online
– March 1: Public hearing No. 2 during City Council meeting (6 p.m.)
– March 1: Public hearing No. 3 during City Council meeting (6 p.m.)
– April 5: Public hearing No. 3 during City Council meeting (6 p.m.)
– April 15: Submit final map to county registrar