Sacramento’s City Council will consider a draft ballot measure Tuesday that would take the power to draw political boundaries out of the hands of sitting council members.
If voters approve in November, an independent commission would become the sole authority for redrawing district boundaries. The council currently has final say on district boundaries, redrawn every 10 years after the census.
In 2011, a controversy arose when residents and council members disagreed about whether to place the UC Davis Medical Center in the district that includes Oak Park. Residents wanted the med center in their Oak Park district, calling it a symbol of pride, but the City Council separated it from the neighborhood. The council reversed that decision three years later.
In 2014, Mayor Kevin Johnson appointed council members Angelique Ashby, Jay Schenirer and Allen Warren to serve with him on a Good Governance Ad Hoc Committee. Creating an independent redistricting commission was one of the recommendations the committee made to the council in September 2015.
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Controversy emerged again after watchdog group Eye on Sacramento split from a coalition including the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause that began working with the city on the proposals. The League and Common Cause later supported the city’s plan.
Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell said his group always agreed with the other organizations on creating an independent redistricting commission, but differed on how other proposals were drafted.
As proposed, the independent redistricting commission will consist of 13 members and two alternates. They will be required to hold at least eight public meetings before finalizing their district map – at least one in each council district.
Staff anticipates beginning the outreach process in 2018, according to the staff report.
Finding qualified applicants falls to the city clerk, who would be required to initiate and “widely publicize” the application process between Feb. 1 and May 1 of 2020 and every 10th year after that. The applications must be collected by the clerk by Aug. 1 of those years, and reviewed to make sure they fulfill all the requirements.
The requirements are designed to ensure political insiders are not drawing the lines. The final map adopted by the council in 2011 was drawn by then-council members Sandy Sheedy, Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty behind closed doors.
An applicant must be a registered voter and have either voted in two of the last three primary city elections or been a resident of the city for 10 years before the application is filed.
People who meet those criteria are not eligible if they or their immediate family have recently contributed more than half of the allowable amount to a campaign for city office, worked for the city, registered as a city lobbyist or worked for a redistricting contractor or consultant within the four years proceeding their application.
In addition, residents are ineligible if they or their immediate family, a parent or a sibling has a connection to a city elective office. Disqualifying activities include running a campaign, working for a campaign or elected official, or working for a campaign committee located in the county that has made expenditures in a city campaign.
Commissioners are prohibited from running for city office in the 10 years after the new lines are drawn. For four years, they’re prohibited from serving on another city commission, working for city elected officials or registering as a lobbyist.
If 40 qualified applicants are not found by Aug. 1 of the years in question, including at least three from each council district, the clerk has another month to come up with additional applicants.
By Sept. 15, 2020, and every 10th year after that, a screening panel must review the applications. The panel could be the city’s ethics commission if one is established or a group that includes a retired judge, local professor with redistricting expertise and a representative from a nonprofit that has worked for governance reform.