The state senate voted last week to move most of Santa Barbara County into a new senate district, with State Senator Jack O’Connell, who used to represent the area, casting one of only two votes against the new district maps.
O’Connell’s 18th district, which formerly extended through San Luis Obispo County toward Santa Cruz, was moved inland, while most of Santa Barbara County moved into the 19th district, which extends through Simi Valley. The new map, which adjusted the boundaries of each of California’s 40 senatorial districts, was created based on population figures from the 2000 census, as mandated by state and federal law, to ensure equal representation in each district.
O’Connell’s Chief of Staff Gavin Payne said the redistricting plan disenfranchised central coast communities.
“The redistricting plan eviscerated [O’Connell’s] district. It took the communities of the central coast and split them in half,” he said. “The plan divides clear communities of like interest; Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties especially have long historical associations. Santa Barbara has a lot more in common with San Luis Obispo than with Simi Valley.”
The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley compiled the data used to ensure roughly equivalent populations in each district. Director Bruce Cain said the separation of communities that share similar interests is an inevitable part of redistricting.
“Communities of interest are nebulous. The definition of a community of interest is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “In every redistricting some community gets screwed. This time the central coast got screwed. This is the first redistricting in California history that both parties agreed upon; both parties got taken care of but many other interests were not.”
In addition to the 38-2 senate vote, the redistricting plan passed the state assembly in a 65-8 vote.
Darren Chesin, a consultant for the Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee — which drafted the new district map — said the plan has been well received by a majority of the state.
“For the most part the existing plan has been very well received. In the senate only two senators voted against the plan, in the assembly 65 voted for this plan – that is an overwhelming majority in both houses,” he said. “But you have to look at the plans as a whole; they have been well received in most of the state. Any time you get that many members to support something, then overall it must be a good plan. Overall, the response from constituents has been very positive, it has been received very well.”
Chesin said the disapproval of some voters is unavoidable in any change of legislative districts.
“You do as much as you can within the confines of law and the legislature. There is always going to be pieces that no one likes,” he said. “Frankly, it’s a zero sum game. You make changes in one district and it makes a ripple throughout the rest of the state.”